The more groups participating in a disaster relief effort, the more difficult it is to keep track of everything that’s taking place. Indeed, knowing everything is impossible, but knowing the most importat things are not.
While people might disagree about what, when, where and how to share disaster related information, it’s hard to imagine anyone arguing against better tools for data and information sharing.
A moderately-sized disaster relief group has to manage the inflow of goods and in-kind donations after a storm. This inventory might arrive at multiple locations and need to be distributed to a wide variety of facilities, including other warehouses, informal and formal relief hubs, and relief sites located in affected communities. Tracking the movement of goods is critical in order to ensure that they get where they need to be—and, in some cases, in order to meet donor requirements or government regulations.
Coordinating within any group, whether it's an emergent, adhoc grassroots group or an established nonporift, is essential for delivering appropriate and timely relief to those who need it. Emergency situations make everything more urgent, so having written protocols for making decisions and moving resources (especially money) becomes particularly important.
Within your relief operation, however, you'll need to determine what criteria people and projects need to meet in order to access scarce resources.
Quite often, the most critical information that needs to be shared during disaster relief and recovery comes in the form of files such as spreadsheets and PDFs. Some of these filesshould be made available to the general public, others contain highly sensative information. that should only be accessible by specific individuals.
How do you make the right information accessible to the right people?
- By using open Data Standards.
- By using the appropriate free, and open open source software.
- By planning your user permissions to meet your needs.
During and after a disaster, relief providers need good information about where to refer victims for "human services" assistance such as homeless shelters, mental health counselling, food pantries, insurance advice and so much more. Unlike local business information, which was made readily available via the internet over a decade ago, “human service” information is much more difficult to find - even if you're a nonprofit organizastion. This is especially true in New York City, which doesn't have a nonprofit-run 211 system like most other places in the USA.
This creates a problem for relief providers who want to ensure victims get high quality information and can access critical services—and also makes it difficult for relief communites to create their own resource directories.
Disasters wreak major havoc on communities. Individual homes, shared community space, public infrastructure, civic institutions and businesses can suffer significant damage, making it difficult for people to move on.
Coordinating rebuild requires a lot of different people to work together. You need information from needs assessment to figure out what to rebuild, volunteers who are ready, willing and able to do the work, resource management to bring the right tools and materials to the right place at the right time, and of course, a lot of network coordination to ensure that some people and projects aren't falling through the cracks while others double or triple dip into available resources.
Getting things around a relief area requires regular access to vehicles. While rentals can work in the short-run, if you plan to maintain relief and recovery efforts for a longer period, it will prove far more cost effective for the network to use vehicles it actually owns—whether those are acquired via donation or purchase. Managing, coordinating and sharing community vehicles can be challenging for a relief effort.