ICT for Disaster Management/ICT for Disaster Recovery

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Disaster reconstruction has to start as soon as the initial disaster cleanup has taken place.This is a very complex endeavour, requiring a huge array of skill sets and a thorough knowledge of an ever-increasing variety of techniques and equipment. A range of software tools are being used for these purposes. Thus, while the role of ICT in the long-term disaster recovery process is not as apparent as it is in disaster warning, there is no doubt that ICT is being used widely to expedite these activities.

Specific Disaster Management Software

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Different types of software tools are being used to gather, store and analyse data related to disasters, not only in post-disaster conditions, but also as a long-term measure to mitigate the risk of the disasters. One such approach is known as DesInventar. DesInventar is a methodical way to gather and store information about characteristics and effects of different types of disasters, particularly the ones not visible from global or national scales. This allows for the observation and analysis of accumulated data regarding these ‘invisible’ disasters at a global or national scale. The DesInventar system can also be used to simulate disasters and study their impact. For example, it is possible to trigger an earthquake in the virtual environment and analyse its impact on a geographical area ranging from a municipality to a group of countries.The system forecasts information on the possible loss of human lives, impact on the economy and damage to infrastructure, etc. DesInventar is also a tool that facilitates the analysis of disaster-related information for applications in planning, risk mitigation and disaster recovery purposes. It can be used not just by government agencies, but by NGOs as well in their disaster management work. The following are some case studies where DesInventar and similar software are being used in the disaster preparedness process.

Case Study 1: Latin America

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This was the first time DesInventar was used in disaster preparedness activities.The project was initiated by the Network for Social Studies on Disaster Prevention in Latin America in 1994. National-level DesInventar disaster databases, with up to 30 years of data, have been developed to date in 17 countries in North and South America. Localized disasters with very limited direct impact (e.g. the destruction of a single house, or a household affected by the loss of their harvest as a result of a frost) are also covered. However, the focus was on major disasters that can affect a large number of people. The databases have been developed by national governments, international organizations, universities, scientific organizations and NGOs. Data is obtained from the media and government agencies, and existing databases. Once collected, data is verified nationally for consistency. Shared definitions are used for some key hazards, while for others, local specificity is more important. The challenge of uniformity between the databases remains, limiting the capacity for international comparisons.

Case Study 2: Orissa, India

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In 2002, UNDP set up a database including an inventory of disaster events with a natural trigger for the state of Orissa in India. The aim of the project was to develop a tool to help decision makers prioritize expenditure in an objective manner. The Orissa project is to act as a pilot for the next stage, including replication in an additional four Indian states and integration into a national government of India integrated disaster resource network. The methodology was modified from the experience of the Latin America initiative.News media and government sources of information were used to build up the disaster events database. A historical database going back to 1970 has been collated and is being updated on a weekly basis.

Case Study 3: South Africa

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The programme for Monitoring, Mapping and Analysis of Disaster Incidents in South Africa (MANDISA) is a core activity for the Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Programme of the University of Cape Town. MANDISA was initiated as a pilot study in the Cape Town metropolitan area in the Western Province of South Africa from 1990 to 1999.The methodology was inspired by DesInventar but has been adapted for the South African context. MANDISA focuses on hazards relevant to South Africa, including large urban ‘non-drainage’ floods, wildfires and extreme wind events, as well as highly frequent ‘small’ and ‘medium’ fires. Socio-economic and environmental risk factors that affect disaster impact are included where possible, allowing the potential for tracking developmental conditions that prefigure disaster. While newspapers formed one source of information for tracking disaster events, the South African experience indicated that these provided limited insight into the highly recurrent relatively small events that occur in informal settlements. Such newspaper coverage reflected only 649 of the 12,300 total incidents tracked through a thorough review of 12 different data sources, including incident reports from Fire Services, Social Services, the South African Red Cross Society and disaster management agencies.

Other Software

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Many other software applications, though they are not specifically meant for disaster management purposes, are being used by disaster management practitioners.The following are some examples.

Groove was initially developed by a small technology start-up established by Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes and former CEO of Iris Associates. Groove has recently been acquired by Microsoft. On its most basic level, Groove is a desktop software designed to facilitate collaboration and communication among small groups. A key concept of the Groove paradigm is the shared workspace. A Groove user creates a workspace and then invites other people into it. Each person who responds to an invitation becomes a member of that workspace and is sent a copy of the workspace that is installed on his/her hard drive. All data is encrypted both on disk and over the network, with each workspace having a unique set of cryptographic keys. This local copy avoids the physical distance between the user and his/her data. In other words, a workspace is a private virtual location where members interact and collaborate. Once a workspace is established, Groove keeps all the copies synchronized via the Internet or the corporate network.When any one member makes a change to the space, that change is sent to all copies for update. If that member is offline at the time the change is made, the change is queued and synchronized to other workspace members when that member comes back on-line. Using the shared workspace, one or more members (peers) now have a context for collaboration. Groove is being used widely by disaster management practitioners. It has been used in Iraq, the Indian Ocean tsunami response and in other emergencies.

Voxiva is another technology start-up with a specific philanthropic intent. It originally provided only reporting services, especially in the health sector, to governments in developing countries. Now, it targets NGOs as well as UN agencies. Voxiva offers an integrated monitoring and reporting function through an on-line platform. Another application meant to provide programme management in the field is currently being developed. Voxiva’s Pyramid Platform is designed to bring technology to the so-called ‘bottom of the pyramid’, such as rural and poor communities. By leveraging phones, mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), faxes and radios as well as the Internet, applications built and deployed on Voxiva’s multi-channel Pyramid Platform have much broader reach. Solutions built on the Pyramid Platform allow organizations to collect information from and communicate with distributed networks of people in a timely and systematic way.Voxiva also provides the tools to organize maps and analyse the data collected and make the right decisions.Voxiva systems are deployed to track diseases, monitor patients, report crime, and respond to disasters across Latin America, Africa, Asia and the US. Voxiva is currently being used by organizations such as the US Department of Defense, USAID, the Rwanda Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Health of Tamil Nadu (India), the International Rescue Committee and the Ministry of Health of Peru.


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The Food and Commodity Tracking System (FACTS) is an easy-to-use Internet-based application that is capable of managing multiple relief operations simultaneously. Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization, based in Portland, USA has worked with Microsoft to develop this tracking system that can help humanitarian aid agencies deliver supplies in disaster situations. According to Microsoft, FACTS represents the first significant step towards creating a standard framework for improving humanitarian assistance on a global level. During crisis, coordinating and distributing the millions of metric tonnes of food and other commodities from donors is a challenge to even the most seasoned relief agencies. FACTS is an effort to address these challenges.The FACTS design team, which also includes the American Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Food Aid Management, Food for the Hungry International, Project Concern International and Save the Children, has worked to standardize logistics operations and to streamline reporting. This allows material aid programme managers to focus on the actual delivery of needed supplies while maintaining high standards of commodity tracking. Mercy Corps has already implemented FACTS pilot programmes in Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan. Three additional agencies are using FACTS in their Bolivia and Guatemala operations, and one agency soon plans to extend the solution to Ethiopia. Apart from these specific software applications, there are many international and regional organizations that use ICT effectively in the disaster management process. For example, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has set up a secure extranet, FedNet, https://fednet.ifrc.org, to share multilingual information among its staff, national societies, field delegations, etc. Additionally, FedNet serves as an interactive forum for on-line collaboration.

Disaster Information Networks

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National and regional networks are useful for effective information sharing and coordination. Here are two examples.

UNDP’s Tsunami Resources and Results Tracking System

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The High Level Coordination Meeting hosted by the Asian Development Bank in March 2005 emphasized the need for more effective tracing of tsunami aid resources and project results. UNDP presented a package of capacity development support for aid coordination, including staff, training and a customized Development Assistance Database (DAD), to help align aid inflows with priority needs. The Government of Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have, with UNDP support, established nationally-owned aid information management systems. A regional information portal and DAD system has been developed as a resource for coordination at the regional level.This brings together results and resource allocation data from each country and makes it available in one place at http://tsunamitracking.org. By accessing DAD, users can find out real-time information on who is doing what and where.The portal also provides access to various maps, reports, charts, documents and other information giving donors, implementers, governments and the general public better insight into funding flows and projects’ progress. A Private Sector DAD has also been developed to record private sector flows, particularly those from transnational firms that may not have reported their assistance to the individual government-owned systems in the tsunami-affected countries.

India Disaster Resource Network

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The India Disaster Resource Network (IDRN) is a web-enabled and GIS-based national database of resources essential for effective emergency response.The project, initiated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and UNDP, collects and stores information such as individual and organizational expertise, and details of equipment and supplies required during emergencies, available at government departments, military units, NGOs and private companies in different districts. Accessible from http://www.idrn.gov.in, this inventory is being used by disaster managers at the national, state and district levels to make informed decisions and mobilize resources quickly during emergencies.

GIS in Disaster Recovery

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In addition to its usage during the prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response phases of disaster management, GIS can also play a role in disaster recovery, in both the immediate and long-term phases.

Immediate Aftermath

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In the aftermath of any disaster, it is essential to restore vital services and systems. This may include providing temporary food, water and shelter to those who have lost homes in the disaster.Medical services are needed for those who are injured. GIS can play several roles in this process. It can identify the damage and begin to establish priorities for action (triage). GIS can also ensure uniformity in the distribution of supplies (medicine, food, water, clothing, etc.) to emergency distribution centres. They can be assigned in proper amounts based on the extent and type of damage in each area. Earth observation satellites could also be used in emergency situations where on-the-ground resources are often not available. Satellites can provide data rapidly when there are earthquakes, landslides, floods and other natural disasters that often prevent assessment by ground or aerial services.They also provide accurate global coverage and operability no matter what the weather or conditions are on the ground.They can also be used for a large number of activities during their lifetime.

Long Term

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Long-term recovery is to restore all services to normal or better than they were prior to the disaster. It involves replacement of homes,water systems, streets, hospitals, bridges, schools, etc. and returning life to normal. This can take several years. GIS tools can be used to track the progress of these activities. It is also possible to prioritize restoration investments with the help of GIS. A GIS can ease the burden of accounting for recovery activities.