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3 Steps To Improve Disaster Preparedness

By 
Source:  InterAction

3 Steps To Improve Disaster Preparedness

As Cyclone Phailin tore through India’s coast last week with winds of 155 mph, hundreds of thousands of lives were instantly at stake. The intensity of the coming storm was compared to that of the 1999 cyclone that struck the same region and killed 10,000 civilians. In contrast, less than 50 lives were lost in 2013.

As Cyclone Phailin tore through India’s coast last week with winds of 155 mph, hundreds of thousands of lives were instantly at stake. The intensity of the coming storm was compared to that of the 1999 cyclone that struck the same region and killed 10,000 civilians. In contrast, less than 50 lives were lost in 2013. The successful disaster preparedness efforts that were carried out in response to the cyclone warnings drew attention to an important and often overlooked initiative: disaster risk reduction. By working together proactively, Indian communities and government officials succeeded in evacuating as many as 900,000 civilians from the dangerous coastal areas.

The same week that the world witnessed India’s preparedness, a group of disaster risk reduction experts gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss how we can make the case of Cyclone Phailin the standard, not the exception. At this InterAction-organized event, experts from both the private and public sector came together to share their experiences and develop joint recommendations. As many observed with the case of Cyclone Phailin, disaster preparedness is key to minimizing casualties and providing quick and effective assistance. Various panelists pointed out that while great strides have been made in providing efficient response and recovery to affected populations in times of crisis, other recent assistance efforts, such as the floods in Pakistan and Hurricane Katrina in the United States, indicate that there is still room for improvement.

Here are three ways organizations can be more proactive with disaster response:

1. Utilizing new technologies –
By using new social media tools organizations are able to reach a larger audience. Rebecca Scheurer, Director of Global Disaster Preparedness Center at Red Cross, talked about the organization’s new app as an example of reaching, informing, and mobilizing millions of people using new technology. The humanitarian organization’s app offers simple instructions on handling common first-aid situations, including choking, burns, and asthma attacks.  The user-friendly interface – which includes written instructions, videos, and animations – has increased people’s interest and involvement in emergency preparedness, especially among young people. Remaining up-to-date on technology and meeting audiences where they are helps elevate awareness for what people can do to be prepared in the case of a crisis.

2. Rethinking the definition of “disaster”
How the term “disaster” is defined affects how efficiently the humanitarian community can prepare for them. David Kamien, CEO of Mind-Alliance Systems, pointed out that a lot of “disaster risk prevention” focuses on natural disasters. However, such a limited understanding of disaster preparedness fails to incorporate crises that fall outside of natural disasters. Chuck Banks, Specialist Leader at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, suggests using more specific terms like resiliency or preparedness when talking about strategies for addressing disasters. The humanitarian community should examine how terms shape the way they prepare for disasters and crises.

3. The need for collaboration and communication –
Even with many organizations working toward the same goal of providing effective disaster relief and response services, a lack of coordination and collaboration between organizations can lead to gaps in response emerging. As Banks noted, efforts between NGOs and the private sector need better coordination, such as in the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado in 2013. “Everybody was trying to be involved in the same space,” Banks said. This meant that some areas were not covered. The panelists suggested several solutions for better public-private coordination, such as updated contact information with one person from each organization and to frequent face-to-face contact with representatives.

As extreme weather rises in frequency and intensity, it becomes increasingly important that countries and organizations make the investment in being prepared and resilient so that storms remain storms and not disasters, that droughts remain droughts and not famines, and that earthquakes remain just earthquakes and not crises. These three recommendations would be a good place to begin. While the discussion was helpful, it is now time for organizations to go back to work and start making these recommendations a reality. As we saw with India, we are capable of helping populations before disasters strike. By adapting to new technologies and working in coordination with other organizations with common goals in mind, we can minimize the repercussions of disasters. 


subjects Climate Change | Emergencies, Crises, Conflicts and Disasters | Civil Society

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