A new report by the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) assessing the tsunami relief and recovery efforts I read over the weekend had a couple of interesting points on information management (section 5.3.2, pgs. 118 – 119):
• all agencies should, as a principle, share assessment reports
• The UN should integrate all assessment-support components of its response (UNDAC, Humanitarian Information Centre [HIC] and United Nations Joint Logistics Centre [UNJLC]) into one knowledge management programme, with a greater capacity to analyse data (including remote sensing data) in conjunction with local and national authorities.
• integrated geographic coordination mechanisms (not just sectoral or ‘cluster’- based models) should be considered
• Civilian relief agencies and the military need to undertake joint training and exercises so that they are more aware of each other’s procedures and approaches. The military is effectively the only source of large amounts of rapidly deployable helicopter lift in sudden-onset emergencies. Senior humanitarian actors should be more aware of the services that the military can offer in a rapid response. Military actors too need greater understanding of the nature of humanitarian coordination, and both the military and senior humanitarian actors should engage in joint exercises.
Strong Angel I and Strong Angel II, pre-dating the final observation above, dealt with precisely the same issue – how humanitarian actors could work more closely with the military and how information systems for disaster relief and humanitarian aid could interface seamlessly, and securely, with military information systems, on-demand, on a task oriented basis.
Sahana’s involvement in Strong Angel III will be a strong Sri Lankan input into the on-going discussions on how to create such pervasive frameworks that are better to respond to the challenges of relief work.
Noteworthy to mention with respect to the need flagged in the report for geographic coordination mechanisms is Toucan Navigate, developed by InfoPatterns. Since early 2004, I’ve been involved in the development of this tool – mostly from the periphery but on occasion giving direct input and feedback into features, functionality and design aspects of the programme. Coupled with Groove Virtual Office, Ray Ozzie’s SSE, Neil Finlayson’s Google Maps and Groove mash-up and the built in sophisticated database functionality, Toucan Navigate to me is one of the most powerful examples of a tool that can significantly help in the streamlining of relief work and humanitarian aid (though I’ve also espoused the tool for human rights monitoring, IDP and refugee movement tracking and ceasefire violations mapping & monitoring).
One of the most enlightening papers I’ve read on this topic remains Paul Currion’s aptly titled Better the Devil we Know: Obstacles and Opportunities in Humanitarian GIS, the observations of which hold as true now as they did when he wrote the paper.
The TEC report isn’t particularly groundbreaking for anyone who has kept abreast of the plethora of best practices, assessments and reports that were published after the tsunami in December 2004. It is, however, well written and the recommendations, though hardly original, are useful in that they have the backing of a powerful coalition involved in aid and relief efforts.