Tag Archives: earthquake

ICT and Disaster Preparedness: A Nepalese Case Study

In today’s ICT4D class we explored the use of technology during emergencies. While I was initially aware of ICTs for the purpose of humanitarian efforts following a disaster or country emergency, I was not completely versed in the potential that ICT has during before and during the actual emergency event. Following our discussion of ICT for disaster resilience, I decided to do some research on my focus country, Nepal. Situated in a highly volatile geographic region, Nepal is susceptible to massive earthquakes on a fairly regular basis. Therefore, the humanitarian efforts in the country have given a significant amount of thought to the integration of ICT for disaster preparedness. According to an article by the ICT Humanitarian Emergency Platform, Nepal is working on reducing the impact of natural disasters through the use of ICT. Specifically, the International Committee of the Red Cross has developed an Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP) for maintaining communication during an earthquake.

The EPP includes a number of procedures to maintain information and communication throughout a disaster. To start with, they have technical physical equipment stored away for easy transportation and relocation. During a disaster, the plan initiates communication to the Headquarters in Geneva which then deploys a secondary emergency response. The plan also includes setting up communication with satellite phones and establishes connections to the office and corporate networks from remote locations. The goal of the plan is to keep officials in contact with each other because “communications is one of the most important tools during an emergency response operation.”

The plan, however, does not go into detail on what to do once communications are set up. Importantly, ICT during a disaster is necessary but not sufficient to reducing harm and damage to a country and its people. Similarly, even if officials have access to communication and information, it does not mean that anyone else does. I would like to find further emergency plans for Nepal that explore how ICT can be an advantage to the average person on the ground during a disaster. More so, I would like to see how ICT is integrated into the preparation, response, and recovery of more organizations in Nepal beyond The Red Cross. All questions aside, I was pleasantly surprised that humanitarian efforts in Nepal had integrated ICT into their action plan.

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Radio in Post-Disaster Haiti

The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was one of the worst natural disasters in recent memory. In the chaos and destruction after the earthquake hit, one radio station continued broadcasting and became a lifeline for Haitians. The station, called Signal FM, somehow withstood the earthquake and its tower was not damaged. Immediately after the earthquake, with electricity supplied by generators, the station started broadcasting important information about where to find help. One woman was even able to find her missing husband through a message she broadcasted on Signal FM. The station stayed on the air constantly for the two weeks after the earthquake. Originally they only had three days of fuel for their generators, but the Haitian government and several NGOs stepped up and provided funding to keep the station on the air. Signal FM organized a panel discussion on-air with journalists to keep people up to date on what was happening in the post-disaster chaos. According to this CNN report Signal FM reached about 3 million people in the Port-au-Prince area during the disaster and was also available to over the Internet. The fact that Signal FM combines traditional radio presence is combined with availability on the Internet is a great example of blending different types of ICTs in order to reach more people, as we saw in the case of the Farm Radio in Africa using SMS to tune people in to radio broadcasts.

Signal FM has been extremely important in disaster recovery in Haiti, especially considering the fact that Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, has only a 62% literacy rate. In this context, the radio is an effective ICT because it can reach large quantities of people in their native language and give them access to critical survival information in a post-disaster setting. The importance and effectiveness of radio in post-earthquake Haiti can be seen in the fact that the U.S. Army handed out solar-powered and hand-cranked radios to around 80,000 Haitians living in  a displacement camp close to Port-au-Prince. In situations of extreme disaster, where other ICTs are not feasible due to the destruction of infrastructure, radio is often the most effective tool in getting critical information to the greatest number of people. According to Louis Richardson, a Haitian earthquake survivor quoted in the CNN report, Signal FM radio was “the most important source of information.”


Case Study: UPS’s TrackPad Technology in Haiti

The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian church best known for its thrift stores and charity work. The organization’s message is based on the Bible and is actually a “spiritual army” (did anyone else know this? I’m a bit flabbergasted). The Salvation Army takes an active stance against issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and suicide. However, the organization also provides prominent housing and homeless services, youth camps, disaster relief, elderly services, and adult rehabilitation.The Salvation Army began in 1865 in England and currently operates in 124 different countries around the world. Its first efforts for disaster relief resulted from the tragedies of the Galveston Hurricane of 1990 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Today, it is a prominent NGO that is usually among the first to arrive with help after natural or man-made disasters, as witnessed after the Haiti earthquake of 2010.

The ICT that was applied in Haiti was UPS’s TrackPad technology, which is usually used to track packages within campus environments. Salvation Army staff in Haiti used the technology to confirm what goods each family received in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp by tracking the information via a laminated card with unique barcodes linked to the number of family members, along with their location in the camp, and their needs. The system worked to ensure that all families received the correct supplies at the right time, and greatly reduced theft and fraud. It also brought about a sense of calm to the camp. See complete details about the TrackPad Case Study here.

The goal of the ICT was to simplify and organize the aid distribution process at a 20,000-person IDP camp in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. While no formal data was collected, valid anecdotal evidence indicates that the technology was a success. It brought about a sense of calm at the camp because people knew that their cards could only scan once to receive certain supplies, so they had to follow directions. Additionally, Salvation Army workers were able to see if families did not receive supplies and could check up on individuals. The technology made a positive difference. Stakeholders included earthquake victims, Salvation Army volunteers and workers, key UPS employees/Salvation Army volunteers, and labor from Cardinal Tracking.

I was surprised that it took roughly three months after the earthquake for the technology to become fully integrated to the IDP camp. I had assumed that the process would have been much more swift.


Fast IT and Telecommunications Emergency and Support Team (FITTEST)

FITTEST is an IT division of the World Food Programme (WFP) consisting of IT technical specialists from the UN that provide IT, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure to support humanitarian aid operations around the world. These experts are trained to work in high demanding and hostile conditions and work to provide most effective and efficient solution for the operation. fittest responds to emergency requests, such as wars, earthquakes, floods, or tsunamis, and can be ready to operate within 48 hours of the occurrence. Created in 1998, they have completed missions in 130 countries. In addition to responding to disasters, FITTEST also explores and documents how new and alternative solutions can be adopted for use for humanitarian needs.

In the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, FITTEST was present within 24 hours of the earthquake.  Their primary focus was to establish basic voice and data communications for immediate relief. FITTEST remained in Haiti 6 months after the earthquake to establish connectivity in Haiti.  The WFP now has shifted their focus to investing in the human capital in Haiti.