Notes from the AIDF Disaster Relief Summit

Notes from the AIDF Disaster Relief Summit

Quite the few days here in Washington DC at the AIDF Disaster Relief SummitCheck out our Twitter stream for all of our updates – and make sure to follow us too! I seem to have had the New York weather follow me down to DC, with temperatures in the twenties and thirties. Oh well.

I spent Tuesday morning at the Voice of America studios listening to several expert presentations on journalism in disaster and crisis areas. Lots to learn and think about:

  • Ebola Zone Reporters “Personal Protective Equipment is difficult to use properly. Used improperly, it’s more dangerous than using nothing.”
  • Ebola Zone Reporters “Personal Protective Equipment gives false sense of security and encourages journalists to go places they shouldn’t be”
  • Ebola Zone Reporters “Important to establish consistent safety protocols for your vehicle and hotel room”
  • Information communication IS aid
  • Keep in mind that the responder will be on the defensive when talked to by a journalist
  • Journalists should go to crisis training and simulations so responders become comfortable with who they are
  • Audience “You can’t forget that the CNN in the US is different than the CNN in Africa when it comes to Ebola reporting.”
  • Technology innovation today allows for “care and outcomes” influenced across the total end to end care pathway
  • In the US, first responders often have access to multiple vehicles. Elsewhere, you need multi-purpose vehicles.

One of the more interesting statements I heard was one I really like. “Information IS aid”. Journalists, and sites like Disaster.Com, that provide information about disasters and crises are providing a form of aid to communities.

Over the other two days of the conference we’ve talked about some great topics – the information and communications technology landscape, effective communications, field personnel safety, social networking, improving product standards, operational efficiency, fleet management and more. There was also a conference version of Shark Tank with several organizations presenting their relief products to a panel for discussion.

Some random notes and tips from the talks:

  • How do you turn data from white noise into real information? (no good answer.)
  • You can walk into disaster areas with lots of technology, but you may find it difficult to charge the gadgets – so stay simple.
  • You can’t know whether new information you receive is valuable until you know what “situation normal” is like for the region – so you can compare.
  • Power, bandwidth and differing technologies hamper data collection during events.
  • Having technology that bridges low tech to high tech communications system at the community level is crucial
  • When we go to a community and explain what we want to do and how we’ll do it, local responders have not necessarily been trained
  • First responders come in with technology, but the local community barely has a cell phone that functions
  • Technology should empower and enable decision makers, and it should be available at the community level
  • A lot of solutions we see brought into emergencies are not scalable. They serve a commmunity as opposed to a nation.
  • Understanding local customs and culture is critical in creating effective communications in communities and nations
  • OFDA has updated their Android disaster app to localize it and pull in regional/local information in multiple countries.
  • We’ll see 2-way comms between agencies/victims in a few years. The challenge will be how the agency coordinates response.
  • In remote regions, communications technology is often available but infrastructure isn’t
  • Field personnel safety: “Is the level of aid being provided proportional to the safety risk of those delivering it?”
  • More aid agencies should emphasize safety and security with crisis plans, communication plans and enforcement of rules.
  • Field Safety: It’s not just about the technology, but it’s also knowledge about how to use it
  • Program delivery sometimes stops because money has to be re-allocated from aid to worker safety. Think of safety early!
  • Some of the biggest hurdles in social media use for disaster and aid: White noise, lack of normalization and standardization between networks, lack of data standards, need for human eyes to understand what the volume of data actually is saying
  • Supporting affected populations generates impacts on safety, protection, health and livelihoods
  • Using poor quality products in disaster relief hurts more than helps
  • Simple solution to minimizing fire risk of tents at aid camps – new inexpensive fire retardants
  • Safety vs. economy is a tough battle when developing new disaster relief and aid products
  • Dr. Joxel Garcia (Washington DC’s Health Director) – Remember that Ebola is only affecting a minority of countries in Africa
  • Dr. Joxel Garcia – When Ebola hit NYC, we didn’t say it hit the eastern seaboard. We shouldn’t stigmatize an entire country.
  • Dr. Joxel Garcia – Regarding Ebola – We need to make sure we use science before we make policy.
  • Open Source and Open Data helps to improve operational efficiency
  • Operational efficiency in relief work “We try to use the power of the crowd” (Red Cross)
  • Pre-planning and mapping out a supply chain that moves fast is critical for operational efficiency
  • What’s happening on the ground, knowing needs, and prioritizing what is sent is critical for efficiency
  • There’s a big need to build local capacity when external funding runs out
  • Seeing a shift toward self insurance programs in aid and relief groups
  • For self insurance, need good claims mgmt, internal payment funding and reserve fund for catastrophic loss
  • Aid groups need to have a good plan for LIFECYCLE maintenance and end of life disposal of fleets
  • Vehicle and fleet management is the second highest cost after staffing. Big bucks, and needs proper management.
  • Audience question to panel – When is it right to move to self insurance for fleets? Dead air. Time for some research!
  • Changing emergency response into relief response – H2O purification, fire fighting and medical care in one truck (regarding a new vehicle by Terranova Global Trading Solutions)

All AIDF Tweets from us and others:



Chris is the owner of Disaster.Com, along with being a business consultant and entrepreneur. In addition to working 80 hours a week on Disaster.Com, Chris is spending another 80 hours a week building a small business consulting company called Fair Winds Strategies. When he’s not working, you can find Chris hanging out with his wife and kids, or on his sailboat (which he spent two years living on and cruising down to the Bahamas from New York, and then back).

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+  

disaster relief

  1. Excellent information! I wish I could have been there. Thank you for bringing back notes. I haven't finished reading them yet, but working through it as I speak.
Click here to add your comments

Submit a Comment

Write Articles
Suggest A Category