UN agency trains communications experts for rapid global disaster response
For crises where minutes can make a difference between life and death, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has just graduated its first class of emergency telecommunications team leaders after an intensive two-week training course to ready them for rapid deployment to difficult and dangerous disaster zones.
“The ability to communicate within hours of a crisis – whether it’s an earthquake, a tsunami or a war – is key to the coordination of relief efforts,” WFP Information & Communications Technologies Division Director Ernesto Baca said today at the end of the training course, the inaugural session of a new programme for information and communications technology (ICT) managers.
“Through this programme, we have developed a specialized training that specifically addresses the unique needs of ICT ‘first responders’,” he added.
WFP has the largest ICT emergency response capacity among UN humanitarian agencies, and is the lead UN agency for communications in support of humanitarian workers’ safety and security.
The programme, funded by a partnership between the Vodafone Group Foundation and the UN Foundation, focuses on three core outcomes: an emergency communications deployment guide, a software application and a cadre of ICT leaders trained to operate in grave security conditions.
It aims to double the number of ICT managers on standby for deployment to the next disaster. These include staff from UN agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government stand-by partners.
“We learned from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that a dollar spent in preparation for disaster goes much further than a dollar donated after the disaster,” the UN Foundation’s Senior Director of Technology Partnerships Paul Margie said.
Twenty-one ICT experts participated in the programme, bringing combined emergency response experience that includes dozens of recent crises such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 South Asian earthquake, the 2006 war in Lebanon, and the ongoing crisis in Sudan.
“Effective communication is critical in enabling humanitarian assistance when disaster strikes,” Vodafone Group Foundation Director Andrew Dunnett said. “Our aim is to provide training and technology to ensure aid workers can deliver effective humanitarian relief as quickly and efficiently as possible irrespective of the environment they have to work in.”
The two-week course was held at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, among the most prestigious universities in Italy, which specializes in humanitarian training programmes.