To ensure life-saving medicines are available in the right places and at the right times in the crucial early hours of emergencies, the best route is to have materials on hand before events take place.
That’s why Direct Relief delivers carefully packaged modules of essential medicines and supplies to communities at risk of hurricanes (or typhoons, in the case of the Philippines) at the beginning of the season. This model is known as “pre-positioning” and it’s an effective form of disaster preparedness in the health systems of vulnerable regions around the world.
But material goods aren’t the only things needed when disaster strikes.
To be adaptive and responsive as international actors, remaining attuned to the expressed needs of local communities also requires a rich information infrastructure. As complex situations change in rapid and unpredictable ways, having access to the right information often can mean the difference between life and death.
Yet information systems cannot be constructed easily, if at all, in the midst of chaos. To have access to critical disaster response information means getting the right systems in place before events happen. Effective disaster response means extending the concepts of pre-positioning and preparedness from the world of material goods and supplies to the worlds of data, information, and analysis.
Last week in the Philippines, I worked alongside my colleague Justin Richmond from Palantir Technologies on the creation of just such a “data preparedness” network in the Philippines. In collaboration with key partners from around the country – the Philippine non-governmental organization Gawad Kalinga, the local health department of Tacloban City, the community health outreach organizations IPI and Health Futures Foundation, Inc., among others – we trained field teams in effective data collection, linking them into Palantir for integrated, real-time analytics, and working through scenarios for putting better information to use during emergencies.
From this work, we expect to have much better baseline insight into the needs of communities and health facilities throughout the country. Gawad Kalinga alone, for instance, has built nearly 800 communities across the Philippines for people living on $2 USD/day or less. Their regional teams will now have much better, more routine and shareable insight into what the needs of these communities are and how they are changing.
We also expect to have systems in place to help our partners move quickly when disasters happen to get rapid feedback from across sectors and from critical health facilities to guide humanitarian assistance more accurately and with strategic insight. The trainings lay a foundation for data preparedness which will be evolving over the years to come, both in the Philippines and elsewhere.