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Mar 23 2010

Reflections on Haiti: Part III, Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Joel Thomas

Topics: PreparednessRecoveryResponse

Nope. That is why there is a need for courageous leaders to break down the silos and agree to discover how to better share information amongst stakeholders and identify ways to work together and improve coordination efforts. There is a subsequent need for pre-negotiated memoranda of understanding to manage the interaction of all key players – this includes governments, multi-laterals, NGOs and all stakeholders in the international disaster response community. We’re going to need more than functionaries to make this happen…we need leaders!

Take a look at one of the leading interoperability models available today, such as Virtual USA. Currently, seven states in the southeastern U.S. are working together with the federal government to develop a regional information sharing capability that will enable multi-jurisdictional incident management operations. They are doing this with a two-pronged approach: by technically increasing their individual capacity to collaborate by developing their own geo-spatial mapping tools and by developing governance protocols through appropriate regional terms of agreement. The folks in these states realize that many of the typical problems that arise between them are small potatoes and could be easily fixed if a means to communicate effectively were developed. One element of the Virtual USA model is best highlighted by the unrelated but recent success of the U.S. State Department’s Southern Command mapping efforts. The Southern Command recently created a map of Haiti that includes all of the crowd-sourced information and mash-up maps available to date. The map was created within weeks of the earthquake in Haiti and has valuable information readily available in a “user-defined operating picture” format.

Many stakeholders in the international community could greatly benefit from acquiring and developing this type of capability to share information in real-time with regard to resource deployments, mission tracking and the like from stakeholders of all shapes and sizes. Identifying ways simply to communicate better and improve situational awareness is of critical importance to sustaining any effort between stakeholders as they choose to work together in a more interconnected fashion.

Focus On Communities

Cutting a giant check has never worked. I once spoke with a confidant at USAID who had served for 30 years in top-level positions on key foreign assistance projects. He told me that in his years of service, he simply could not account for more than 30% of the billions of dollars that was spent by the U.S. government due mostly to the corruption of aid recipients. That says it all for me.

The stakeholder community ought to find ways to work with the leadership in the nations and with the communities that we are trying to serve. A broad, coordinated pre-event strategy amongst stakeholders should seek to leverage the strengths and missions of various stakeholders to provide community-specific support and assistance. There are hundreds of reports that point to the value in working with affected populations to rebuild their communities. Yet these efforts must not be made in a vacuum. That is the approach I recommend – seeking to coordinate community-specific efforts on a much broader level than has been done to date. You can even use geo-spatial maps such as referenced previously to seamlessly track what is being done, by whom, with what resources, on what roads, in what buildings, etc. Tracking mechanisms such as this will help better inform planning, decision-making and follow on efforts in these communities.

I would love to hear what you think can/should be done to improve coordination efforts of the international emergency/disaster response communities.

Reflections on Haiti: Part II, The Problem

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