10 August 2017

Preparing today for tomorrow’s disasters

SOS Children’s Villages launches a pilot emergency preparedness partnership to help train and equip SOS families and national associations

An SOS Children's Villages co-worker organises an activity with children dispalced by the Ecuador earthquake in 2016. Photographer: Jens Honoré

Nikolai Snoek is part of the emergency preparedness project (E-Prep) - developed with the support of global partners - that will help SOS national associations strengthen their ability to address urgent needs of children when disasters strike.

E-Prep focuses on providing training to SOS national co-workers, pre-positioning relief supplies and providing logistical advice. The ten pilot countries and SOS Children’s Villages are Bangladesh (Chittagong), Ecuador (Quito), Mali (Socoura), Mozambique (Beira), Nicaragua (Esteli), Niger (Tahoua), Somalia (Magadishu), South Sudan (Juba), Syria (Qodsaya) and Ukraine (Luhansk).
 
Mr Snoek, an advisor for the SOS Children’s Villages Global Emergency Response team, talks about the reasons for E-Prep and its importance for SOS Children’s Villages globally.

What do you hope to accomplish through E-Prep?

I like to think of E-Prep as a global partnership for emergency preparedness to enhance and improve our internal organisation and operational capacity. We want to raise awareness about emergency preparedness, which means we need to plan ahead for what could possibly happen and be prepared to respond.
 
When we launch an emergency preparedness partnership with an SOS national association, we look together at their level of readiness to protect the children and staff as well as the capacity to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable. We try to prepare for everything. For example, if there is an evacuation, you need to have transportation and roadmaps. If the families stay in the SOS Children’s Village, we need to think about having a buffer stock of food, water and other supplies. We also hold cluster meetings with agencies and organisations to see what others are doing in terms of preparedness and response. We look at what we can do in communities in case of an emergency and what kinds of activities can be implemented depending on the type of emergency.
 
It is also important to identify emergency focal points in each country, and ideally each SOS Children’s Village or office, who can be counterparts in our emergency network.

Every country may have different needs and capabilities. How do you address this?

This is not about us telling a national association how to be prepared. We work with national directors, village directors and programme officers to tailor E-Prep to their needs. They know the needs of their communities and they will take ownership of E-Prep in their own country.
 
We start by getting an idea of the resources of the SOS Children’s Villages national association, such as its networks with the local government, national emergency management agency, and UN organisations. We also have a look at more practical things, such as if we have warehouse space in the villages or national office, and their logistical resources like transportation. All this is done in a manner of collaboration.
 
The second step is to assess the capabilities of the local communities, to identify those that are the most vulnerable and to assess their own disaster-response capacities. We want to see what help we could provide if something does happen. There is also an important link with SOS Children’s Villages’ family strengthening work, because our family strengthening co-workers tend to have broad knowledge of the surrounding communities and their socio-economic profile.

How does this help SOS Children’s Villages support children in emergency response programmes?

If we are prepared, it will be much easier to launch emergency response programmes. Our logistics would be better organised and we would have procurement guidelines in place. We will be more able and better prepared to respond when needed and to do what SOS Children’s Villages does best – ensuring protection, care and the rights of children.
 
Preparedness also means cost savings and improved efficiencies. By pre-positioning materials depending on the local needs, we can respond faster and avoid the elevated risk of higher costs, shortages or delays that often occur in sudden emergencies. We also want to cooperate with local suppliers – this has many advantages in cost and time savings as well as in building local capacity.

What lessons have you learned from recent disasters?

The April 2016 earthquake in Ecuador is a good example. Our colleagues at SOS Ecuador are very much motivated to improve their emergency preparedness. They learned from the earthquake that it is better to be prepared than not to be prepared. They also gained experience with the implementation of their emergency programme after the earthquake. Because of their experience, SOS Ecuador is in a good position to help us identify gaps in other areas and possibly help other national associations strengthen their own preparedness.
 
Every SOS association that has had to manage emergencies can also share and contribute to this learning process. That is one of the reasons why I like to think of this as a global partnership for preparedness. In our setup as a federation, an important role of the international office is to compile information and knowledge in order to further develop processes that can support our operations in the countries.

What role does technology play in helping SOS Children’s Villages strengthen disaster preparedness?

There are two types of emergencies, natural and man-made disasters, both of which can be either sudden or slow onset. Sudden-onset is like an earthquake or the outbreak of a conflict, you cannot really predict these events with new technologies. Some satellite-based early-warning systems for tsunamis, floods, storms, etc. can help to minimise their impact on our children and staff. Our scientific partners, the Centre of Geoinformatics at the University of Salzburg and at the Centre for Disaster Information at the German Space Centre, are creating early warning alerts, which will be distributed automatically through the Resiliance360 platform to designated colleagues at village-, national-, regional- and international level. In the case of slow-onset disasters such as droughts, satellite-derived and socio-economic local data provide the basis for a comparison of historic information and help provide forecasts on potential events.
 
SOS Children’s Villages has already demonstrated the importance of technology in responding to emergencies, for example by providing communications hubs – the ICT corners – as a tool to help refugee and displaced families stay in touch or re-unite. Our network around the world has a great potential to be a major social service provider for children and families in emergencies.

More about E-Prep

E-Prep involves several partners. The global insurance group Allianz has provided a grant to cover risk and vulnerability studies, training and resources in ten pilot countries. Furthermore, they introduced SOS Children’s Villages to Swiss Re insurance and their CatNet global risk analysis platform which provides access to risk data for all our 550 project locations around the world.
 
The University of Salzburg in Austria is one of our scientific partners, carrying out the risk and vulnerability studies which focus on the SOS Children’s Villages and the surrounding communities. Deutsche Post DHL Group has developed the global online platform Resilience360 for their supply chain customers. SOS Children’s Villages uses this platform to obtain near real-time and geo-referenced information about incidents that may lead to crises or have an impact on the safety and security of our children and co-workers, and to report and manage our own incidents. In addition, the platform provides risk analyses and statistical information derived from the data archives of Munich Re insurance.

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