Natural disasters

We humans think that we can control our environment, but as the recent cold and snowy weather has confirmed, this is certainly not the case. Trucks de-icing the roads with salt have been busy, but, horror of horrors, a lack of planning and foresight has meant that the UK government has enforced rationing to ensure that the salt does not actually run out. Surely, it would not be that hard to build a proper forecast for the salt supplies, the drivers and the equipment to ensure that this situation is not repeated?

However, the inconvenience of icy roads pales into insignificance when compared to the effects of the earthquake in Haiti. This impoverished country has experienced a disaster that has left thousands of people dead and vast numbers homeless. This is a real disaster. Help is arriving from many countries, but much was delayed by blockages at the airport in Haiti. Specialist rescue crews with electronic devices for detecting people buried in the rubble were unable to reach their destination losing precious hours.

When they finally arrived, along with teams from many other countries, who was able to coordinate their activities with others? They had no system for helping them to create the coordinated response. Also, like most complex activities, there are multiple stages to the international response. The initial activity is search and rescue. This can last up to 2 weeks, after which time, the odds of finding anyone alive drop dramatically. The next stage is the recovery activities where bodies are recovered and identified. Then comes clearing and rebuilding. Of course, during all this, medical support needs to be provided as well as the basic necessities of food, shelter and water.

The cost of failure in these operations is massive with disease, starvation and dehydration being major killers after the initial disaster.

So often, following this type of aid operation, there are questions asked on how the ‘process’ can be improved. Let me share with you my thoughts: How about establishing a central control mechanism with the skills and the time of the individuals being used to maximum effect. With tasks allocated to individuals based on their skills and location and the initiation of these tasks coming from the field. Included in this can be the equipment and any special supplies, so that when the teams turn up, they have everything they need to be productive.

I wonder if anyone has looked or considered creating an overall scheduling/dispatching system for the disaster relief efforts? This could help in many different ways, including being able to identify any required skills or equipment. This may even be able to help the general population outside the disaster zone, who rather than just watching helplessly and only being able to offer money, could potentially sponsor specific activities. This could be the sponsorship of specific parts of the aid and medical operation through to reconstruction.

We all applaud the efforts of all the aid workers and the people salting the roads, but I think that we could make their work even more effective with a coordinated planning and scheduling system.

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