Posts Tagged ‘disaster risk management’

Life is full of unexpected events and being prepared for them makes the difference between success and failure. This is true at any level: individual, local, or governmental. Responding to unexpected events successfully involves improving preparedness by, among other things, clarifying roles and responsibilities around management of risks.

Most research has focussed, so far, on management of risk at the local or governmental levels and very little has been dedicated to the individual level. If that is true at the response stage of an unwonted event, almost nothing has been done at the preparation stage.

Making individuals living antennas for the detection of an incoming event may be too ambitious, although there are examples of it. For instance, in Spain there is a network of volunteers that measure weather conditions throughout the territory and are a source of daily information to prevent climatic events. Creating such a network for any type of event could reinforce the resilience our society dealing with high impact events. Such living antennas could be trained to lead their neighbours in the early response to a high impact event. For such network to be effective, the components have to be deployed across the territory, making in-person training very expensive. E-learning could be the answer for training a vast number of living antenna volunteers to manage High Impact – Low Probability (HILP) events.

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There are multiple factors to consider when testing the level of resilience of a society in the event of a crisis. The well-known model of “prevention – preparedness – response – recover” for risk management summarizes the basic steps for an efficient answer to an unwanted event that puts in jeopardy the well being of a group or of an entire society.

Most people in the developed world have been fortunate not to have been faced with a war. Since WWII, Europeans and North Americans have not been involved in a war affecting their homes. But that placid world has been shaken since the start of the twenty first century by several high-impact events that have disrupted the well-being of large chunks of western society. First was the financial crisis of 2007-2008. With some countries still recovering from the damage, the Covid-19 pandemic struck in 2019, turning the world upside-down. And in the midst of recuperating from the effects of the pandemic, the Russian Federation decided to attack Ukraine, disrupting the energy market, fostering inflation and sending, yet again, many families below the poverty level.

Those three high-impact events have something in common that could serve as a model for well designed “preparedness” management. I have pointed out the common denominator of the three events: sending many families below the poverty level. That common denominator is present in many unwanted events; for instance, floods or earthquakes. When a big disruption occurs, some layers of society – mostly those at the bottom of the social pyramid – see their living standards directly affected. These are the ones which rely more heavily on public social and health provision.

We can see clearly that the socio-health sector is the one that has to come to the fore when a high-impact event occurs. Dimensioning the socio-health sector for “normal” times is not sufficient. Dimensioning the socio-health sector for early response, e.g. emergency response, is not sufficient. The socio-health sector has to be ready for medium-term action since the effect of a high-impact event is going to be prolonged in time. Many of the families who lost everything during the financial crisis have been in need of assistance for many years, and the same is true for those most affected by the pandemic or the inflation shock of today. Societies have to dimension their socio-health sector taking into account that, once the shock is absorbed by the early “response”, the “recovery” phase is a long undertaking, and for that reason, “preparation” has to be clearly and sufficiently dimensioned. If in doubt, see the effect of Covid-19 on primary health care, which two years later is still struggling to cope with the increased demand on its services and is now being asked to cope with a new demand caused by the wave of refugees from Ukraine.

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I have been hearing for a long time that “fires are put out in winter”. What that means is that the work of clearing and cleaning the forest must be done during winter, to prevent fires during the summer. Equally, recovery or reconstruction after a disaster has to be worked out before the disaster occurs.

Priority 4 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 deals precisely with this. A quote from the introductory paragraph is enough to focus my point: “Disasters have demonstrated that the recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction phase, which needs to be prepared ahead of a disaster, is a critical opportunity to ‘Build Back Better’, including through integrating disaster risk reduction into development measures,”

I know that we are still, probably, in the response phase of the prevention, preparedness, readiness, response, and recovery continuum that summarises crisis management. Nevertheless, the time to think about the recovery phase is coming, if it has not come already.

Again, as in my previous post dealing with population involvement during the emergency, there is not, to my knowledge, anything being done for the “implementation of normative frameworks, standards and plans for disaster risk reduction” involving stakeholders (civil society, volunteers, organized voluntary work organizations and community-based organizations).

The politicians are engaged in the “blame game” of trying to make the political rival responsible for almost 5 million deaths. Meanwhile, nothing is being done to inform the population on how to proceed when the next pandemic, or for that matter the next health emergency, comes. My only hope that something meaningful will be done lies in the current HORIZON EUROPE call on Disaster-Resilient Society for Europe.

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In 2019 the WHO released the document “Health Emergency and Disaster Risk Management Framework” (Health-EDRM)[1]. At that time no one had heard of SARS-CoV-2 while, at the same time, it was a premonition of things to come.

A recent paper by Emily Ying Yang Chan et al[2] points out the need to reinforce a bottom-up approach to Health-EDRM in line with my previous post “Citizens’ role in hazard management[3].

A quick review of the Health-EDRM document (see Bullet 5.9) shows how the authors understood the role of the community in an emergency: “Participation of communities in risk assessments to identify local hazards and vulnerabilities can identify actions to reduce health risks prior to an emergency occurring. … The local population will also play the lead role in recovery and reconstruction efforts.”

It is clear that a year and a half after the explosion of Covid-19, “the local population” has been at best a passive actor in the fight against the pandemic. Its participation in the prevention, preparedness, readiness, response, and recovery continuum has been marginal.

I argue in the above-mentioned post, “Citizens’ role in hazard management”, that the involvement of the population should be based on its ability to identify a hazard before it becomes a real risk. For that it is necessary to involve the population by developing diffusion tools covering an array of specific hazards. To my knowledge, nothing existed in this area for a pandemic and, what is even worst, nothing is being done.

If anything has to be learnt from the development of the pandemic, it is that none of the actors were prepared to fight it effectively. But the population was taken completely by surprise, going from normal day to day business to complete lockdown. The population collaborated passively throughout this situation. The problem remains that, having an almost complete lack of knowledge of what the full consequences of the pandemic are, a large percentage of the population has embraced the so called “freedom” with open arms.

The whole structure of population involvement has fallen into pieces. Embracing with open arms the new “freedom” is the exact opposite of what involvement of the population in fighting the pandemic should mean. A large percentage of the population is, with “open arms”, exercising its “freedom” to help spread the SARS-CoV-2.

[1] https://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/preparedness/health-emergency-and-disaster-risk-management-framework-eng.pdf accessed 23/07/21

[2] https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01233-2  accessed 23/07/21

[3] https://cgarciamanagement.wordpress.com/2021/07/22/citizens-role-in-hazard-management/ accessed 23/07/21

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Successful hazard management means a perfect working of the flow of identification – communication – early-warning – early-response – reaction. No flow is possible if the first stages of it are missing: identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

It does not matter how many fancy devices, based on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, are designed to detect hazards; the best device will always be the human being. It has built-in intelligence and is a natural learner.

We should then aim at putting the citizen in the centre of the flow of identification, communication, early-warning, and early-response.

The population should be able to identify a hazard before it becomes a real risk.  It is necessary to involve the population at large by developing diffusion tools covering specific hazards. Those tools should be deployed geographically according to the hazard which applies to that particular area. For instance, flood dissemination tools should be deployed mainly in Central Europe, while fire dissemination tools would be deployed mainly in the Mediterranean areas. The aim is to make the population aware of the most likely hazard in their area and teach them how to act to minimise risks.

Special attention should be given to X-Events[1], the unknown unknown of an entirely unexpected event suddenly befalling an unsuspecting hapless community. Weak signals, such as the lone wolf terrorist, are difficult to identify using ICT-based systems. A network of “objective antennas” should be in place.  They will be people specially instructed to identify and evaluate threats, similar to those volunteers watching the local weather and acting as a network to provide reliable and valuable information about weather events. Only human “objective antennas” will identify weak signals on the ground and, also as importantly, filter fake news.

Identification is followed by communication. There is no need to encourage the use of social networks; as of 2020 the percentage of active social media users (16-74 years old) in the European Union is 55%[2], with countries like Denmark at 85%. The problem is the reliability of the information, or lack of it. People follow people, as the quick spread of fake news has proved many times.

There are very useful human based systems combating fake news, such as the one carried out by the Virtual Operation Support Team (VOST Europe)[3] association. Their objective is to support emergency services social media accounts, by diffusing their messages, and at the same time combating fake news.

The use of ICT tools should be but a complement to the work of humans if our aim is for effective and efficient hazard management.

[1] The X-Events Index. John Casti. The X-Center, Vienna. http://globalxnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/X-eventsIndex.pdf accessed 17/07/21

[2]https://www.statista.com/statistics/276767/social-network-usage-penetration-of-european-populations/ accessed 13/07/21

[3] https://vosteurope.org/

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There is a lot of talk about how to deal with the next pandemic. The consensus is that there is going to be a next pandemic; we do not know when, but we do know there is going to be one. So, are we ready for it?

If we believe the panellists on a recent webinar by The Economist, the answer is an unqualified no. Of all the possible explanations on why we are in such a situation of unpreparedness I subscribe that of Dr. John Nkengasong (Director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention): There is a deficit of “trust capital”.

The deficit exists among governments, and between governments and their citizens. Let’s start with lack of trust among governments. No one claims that a pandemic is not a world health problem. But if it is a global problem, why are we still ignoring the obvious fact that if we do not collaborate globally we are not going to solve “our” problem? A pandemic is not going to disappear until it has been eradicated from the most remote country. Trusting other governments means that part of our resources should be directed to other countries so that we can advance in unison.

As for the second aspect, the lack of trust between a government and its citizens, there are plenty of examples. Do we need to be reminded how some people stormed the USA Congress? What about those who refuse to be vaccinated because they believe in weird conspiracy theories? This aspect of lack of trust is as dangerous as the previous. Why? Because citizens are the first responders in a pandemic.

If we want to manage the next pandemic more efficiently, we need to involve first responders. A paper by Ying Yang et al[1] points out that “Epidemics start and end in communities, where citizens are often the first to observe changes in the environment and in animal health, and the first to be exposed to new or re-emerging pathogens”. We should follow the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 – 2030 so as “… to promote a culture of disaster prevention, resilience and responsible citizenship, generate understanding of disaster risk …”. We should invest in educating citizens so that they can identify changes that foreshadow a possible pandemic. They are the cornerstone of a more efficient future preparation and response to the next pandemic.

[1] Ying Yang Chan E, Gobat N, Dubois C, Bedson J, Rangel de Almeida J. Bottom-up citizen engagement for health emergency and disaster risk management: directions since COVID-19. The Lancet Published Online June 4, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01233-2

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Either because it is mandatory or out of the realization that a disaster, natural or manmade, can put the soundest enterprise out of business, almost all big companies have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) for proper Disaster Risk Management (DRM). Is it the same for SMEs? I am afraid it is not the case.

I have written before about how individuals should take control of their own safety. This post is an extension of the need for SMEs to be an active part of a disaster resilient society.

So far, I haven’t been able to identify too many actions directed at helping SMEs implement actions enabling them to be prepared for a disaster. As a matter of fact, according to a paper by Juan Pablo Sarmiento et al of the University of Florida (USA), only 14,1% of business with fewer than 100 employees had a BCP in place (2013). The recent flooding in south-east Spain, one of the vegetable gardens of Europe, has shown that only 37% of the 50,000 damaged hectares have something as simple as an insurance policy, let alone a BCP.

Are we going to do anything about it? If we look at the last issue of the H2020 WP in Security, this is something that has not even been contemplated, except for cybersecurity risks. Do we assume that SMEs are not an important part of society? This is not the case. According to Eurostat, SMEs provide 66,3% of the employment in EU28, approximately 137 million people. Imagine if we could get 137 million people involved in a resilient society? Imagine if we could get 99,8% of the total number of enterprises involved in a resilient society?

Maybe it is worth a try.

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