Saturday 10 October 2015

A nice free course about cyber security is currently running

A nice free course about cyber security is currently running. If you are interested in this field or want to protect you digital data beter, have a look at the futurelearn website. It's a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). The course Introduction to cuber security has just started: 

Monday 7 September 2015

What do immigrants carry with them.

I have tried to do research about the effectiveness of emergency preparedness. This is however very hard to since this is very hard to determine what is effective, what isn’t and how to generate or find statistics.

What I have done is check the number of people dying after a mayor incident. Assuming an emergency bag is a response type of action, not a mitigation tool I assumed for my little research that an emergency bag is not a tool that prevents dead during a incident.
Very few people die after a mayor event. Even when not prepared people can generally survive long enough until help arrives. Obviously getting cold, dehydrated and hungry isn’t nice. But very few people die of it after an incident. The step from mayor incident to relief is not nice, but in the vast majority of cases not lethal.

In the emergency preparedness community, there is a lot of talk of the gear we might need in an emergency or when we flee for something. There is even talk about the ‘I’m never coming home bag’ (Acronym: ‘INCH bag’). Generally heavy and massive bags, because people think they will need to bring everything they will every need on their backs. As a hiker and mountaineer, it’s easy to see why that would not work. Big heavy bags, means you are slower, less manoeuvrable, tiring a lot quicker and it uses a lot of calories. As a mountaineer I carry a lot less weight than some people do in there ‘INCH’ bag and still manage to survive pretty bad weather condition.

What do people in real life bring? The refugee crisis in Europe gives us a look at what people bring. With hazardous border crossings, from climbing fences, running away from border guards, to going by boat and packing as light as possible (or ditch stuff) on boats, because people smugglers want to pack as many people as possible on a boat.

Some real life examples from the immigrants:

Surprisingly little is carried and they are generally not shelter, food and water independent. Does this matter? Just like any emergency situation, there are some kind of effort by governments, NGO’s or just volunteers that will help with this. In the case of the immigrants the way to Europe is through functional countries, where they can buy food, water and shelter or depend on government or charity. think survival able, but certainly not comfortable.

So what is the point of this article. Well primarily that you do not need much to survive. I’m not saying that carrying as little as the refugees, but carrying 50+ pounds ‘INCH’ bags what some propose is just crazy. Find a middle ground in weight/size versus mobility. The way is to figure out what you can do without, not with what might come in handy. 

Monday 4 May 2015

Disaster rescue and recovery; donations

The Nepal disaster sparks up lots of conversation of people willing to help. Some just donate to large recovery organisations like the red cross, some want to send money to small local charity, others want to fly over and help. Well people time for a reality check.

In everyday life big company’s often use the just in time (JIT) method. Manufacturing and shipping items just in time, when and where it is needed. Having items laying in storage and transit it just and waste of space and resources being tied up. This makes everything more flexible and easier to adjust to what is needed, while minimizing of wasted time and resources.

A disaster area generally has lots of logical challenges. Logical workers might not show up (dead, injured, taking care of loved once or simply not able to get to work), road are blocked, equipment and buildings might be damaged or lost. Then there is a huge amount of stuff send to these areas. Clogging up at the roads and airports. This makes just in time delivery even more important than ever before. Items send must be what is needed right then, with proper equipment and personnel to train and supply people with the right items. Items that are most needed are the ones that are effective in giving the aid that is needed with minimum spend resources on site.

But the reality is that a lot of people and organisations don’t send the right things, send things at the wrong time or just send things without thinking about logistics. If you fly items in, but arranged nobody to do something with it, it will just sit there. Unsolicited help is not help. There are no surplus personnel waiting for it, if you did not arrange them. This means either send it back or just shove it aside to make space on the tarmac. Once pushed off the tarmac it will probably degrade and become useless. With other words, people fly things in, get shoved aside, spoils and become a big pile of garbage. Spending money, clogging chock points and creating garbage.

Items send to disaster area need to be kept low in required resources and personnel. For instance, bottled water is very resource and labour intensive product and creates lots of trash. Pallet of water need to put in to trucks, put in distribution sites, people need to manage and secure (yes security is a mayor factor) these sites and every single bottle needs to be brought there. Using vehicles, drivers, fuel and road capacity. These resources are in high demand, so using less of them is good. The alternative would be a water purification unit (many different sizes available), If there are water sources nearby. Once delivered on sight, it only requires very little supplies and resources to keep going.

Donated items by individuals are another class of resource intense ‘aid’. People donating their old stuff to charity and expect them to be donated to victims of a disaster. The problem with donating stuff is sorting useless stuff (a lot of useless stuff) from useful stuff, sort them in categories, sizes, clean them and bag them. If you need to get things done now, this is not a realistic option. It takes lots of time and lots of volunteers to do this.

Items also need to be the appropriate for the area. Don’t send pork to Jewish or Muslim communities. Don’t send winter coats to warm areas. Don’t send items which won’t work in those countries (wrong sockets and voltage for electrical devices). Don’t send food that need extensive cooking, when people houses are destroyed.

The most effective donations are cash, which are spend on buying supplies in and nearby the disaster area. You won’t compete with the local market, you stimulate the economic (helps the economic recovery) items are already nearby and require little transportation, items are familiar to the locals and no customs issues. 

Disaster rescue and recovery; helping

Once a disaster strike like Nepal recently, many people want to go there to help.  Sometimes that’s not an issue. I used to work for a fire department which supplies people for the national urban search and rescue unit. So I know some of my former co-workers were send to Nepal. They are trained and have their logistics done, so no worries there. But what about the average Joe who want to fly over to help?

There are a few things to consider, why would you go to a disaster area to help. Is it your feel good trip or because you can actually do something useful? People might say they want to do something useful but in practise are not.

To help in a disaster area, you first need to make sure you are not using their resources. People don’t have a place to sleep, no food and water and you fly in and don’t have those things there either? Well maybe you should take care of that first. If you have to take their shelter, water and food, then you are using resources the victims need. Meaning you are not helping, but you are a burden.

Then the second question, what are you going to do there? If you do not have specialist skills and knowledge which is needed, then the only thing you can provide is helping numbers and muscle. But there generally is enough numbers and muscle. So why compete with the locals. The locals speak the language, know the area, known the local customs and are in general more useful. It’s the same issue I mentioned when people go to Africa to help build a school. You are not helping, but competing with the locals. They are poor, but have enough people. So sending more people to volunteer for work, is the worst thing you can do. Send money and hire a local professional is probably cheaper than your plane ticket and if you are not trained, they will also perform a better job. Their income will also further boost the local economy. The same goes with disaster relief. Give jobs to locals to help normalise there situation and there for indirectly boost the economy there.

Disaster recovery is a profession. It requires training to get the right skills and local knowledge. If you do not know the local customs, do not know the culture and language you probably doing more harm than good. Remember It’s not about you. Disaster recovery is about the victims. 

Disaster rescue and recovery; Different units, different uses.

With the Nepal disaster there are some critics, who argue about how emergency personnel are being used in the post disaster rescue and recovery efforts. Why are mountaineers getting rescued from the mountains, while there are people trapped in collapsed houses. Why are those foreign mountaineers getting help but the mountain village aren’t.

Well let’s get something clear. Rescue units are not trained to do every type of rescue. Different units are trained and equipped for different kind of jobs. Just look at what the different types of firefighters; There are structural fire fighters, forest fire fighters, technical rescue (road traffic collisions), hazardous material specialists, rescue divers, height rescue, etc. Although most fire fighters are trained to fight fire, the specialist jobs are generally only done by a smaller selection of fire fighters with specialist training and equipment.

Mountains rescue units are trained to save people from mountains. They are trained and equipped for just that. Mountaineering skills, specialist rope skills and improvisation (weight is a big issue when climbing). Urban search and rescue is a completely different type of unit. They need to find and reach people buried in (concrete) rubble, meaning working with specialist jacks, equipment to saw though rebar, stabilizing structured, etc. Totally different training and equipment. Using one unit to do the job of the other is letting people do things they have no clue about with the wrong equipment.

Then there is another difference; there are rescue units and there is recovery organisations. Rescue units are there only to rescue people; getting people safely out and to a safe location. Then there are organisations which focus on recovery. Recovery is making sure thing getting back to normal. Generally by providing basic necessity; shelter (tents), food, water, hygiene and basic medical services. Then the next step of getting things back to normal. These are obviously different from rescue units. Rescue units might leave surplus equipment and supplies when they leave, but they don’t provide more recovery wise than that.

So when people are arguing about rescuing mountaineers (mountain rescue units), but villages not receiving aid (recovery), they just don’t realist these a totally different units and organisations. It’s easy to judge, but unless you are schooled/trained in emergency management, you might need to take a step back and stop criticizing the professionals. 

Disaster rescue and recovery; local rescue personnel.

The earthquake in Nepal is showing how most large scale disasters happen. Here are a few posts/rants about disaster rescue and recovery.

What happens after a disaster is not as easy as many thinks. Many people reaction it so send stuff or go there to help. Well it’s really not that easy. Many often are critical about the local authorities not helping enough at the beginning, but that is just unrealistic expectations.

Emergency personnel are not in surplus supply. Just look at a everyday mayor structural fire. One district generally can’t field enough equipment and men power to fight the fire and have to request assistant from bordering districts. Their bordering districts might fill in the coverage gap. Other things might happen, so you still need to make sure there is some reserve. Not a major problem, these large fire happen, but generally they don’t occur at the same place and certainly not nearby of each other.

But what if we add some new challenges in the mix. Emergency personal are just citizens and often even volunteers. In a mayor disaster they are effected to. Some might be killed or injured, others have to take care of their direct love ones. Would you leave your trapped and injured child so you can help others? People often forget that emergency service personnel are just people. You can’t expect them to drop everything to save you.

Then there are logical issues. Communications are generally disrupted, roads are blocked, the fire stations and emergency equipment storage might be affected. First priority is generally not rescue, but getting things setup so you can start with rescue; clear the roads, set up communications and inventory what capacity the emergency services have left and figuring out what happened and what needs to be done. With these challenge, don’t expect emergency personal to be everywhere at the same time, or same day, or days…

In an disaster you can get help from even further away. One option is to request help from the army. Most armies have fairly large numbers of personnel and large amount of equipment. They suffer from the same logical issues. Needing unaffected personnel and equipment, communications and cleared roads. And more importantly soldiers are not trained as rescue personnel. Lots of comments from people why the army isn’t pulling people from collapsed buildings. But last time I checked, most soldiers are trained to use weapons, not with working with rescue equipment. Saws to cut rebar and jacks to lift concrete slaps are completely different tools than a rifle. So the army is generally more suitable for the logics; clearing roads, building bridges, settings up tents and easy rescue and recovery work which require numbers and muscles, but not specialist training.

Can we blame authorities for not able to respond to a disaster to everybody immediately? Well even the rich western counties won’t be able to field enough equipment and personal immediately. Many area’s effected by disasters are often very poor. What do expect them from spending in preparing there emergency services? People are even saying that you shouldn’t donate money, because the authorities didn’t respond quickly enough. People are expecting things to be done more quicker than ever.  Unless you spend outrages amounts of money and resources preparing for a disaster, this will never happen. Not in poor countries, not in rich countries. Don’t complain if it takes time, it’s just reality. People are expecting instant gratifications, that might work with some parts in your life, but certainly not in disaster response and recovery.  

Thursday 15 January 2015

Edx Natural disaster course

If you read this blog, you might be interested in the following Edx course:

It's a MOOC (massive open online course), which is free to follow.