Palestine is exposed to a range of risks, including earthquakes, landslides, flooding and droughts. Three years ago the World Food Programme (WFP) partnered with the Palestinian Civil Defence to better prepare for such emergencies and reduce risks. Recently, WFP led a simulation exercise to practice the information management tools it developed.
In Ramallah a loud siren, followed by a ‘breaking news’ video: “A magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck the West Bank this morning”, this is the crisis scenario that Palestinian Civil Defence staff had to respond to during a WFP-led emergency simulation exercise. The disaster scenario tested and stretched the skills of the civil defence staff to their outer limits, with the ultimate aim to improve their decision making and life-saving emergency response capacity.
The four-day exercise, that took place in and around Ramallah city, gathered more than 40 civil defence staff members from the West Bank’s 11 governorates including coordinators, facilitators, and volunteers. The simulation marks the progress that has been made since WFP started working with the civil defence back in 2012 when WFP began developing a range of information management tools, such as a disaster preparedness web portal, a smartphone application to enhance real-time data collection and assessment capabilities and a cutting-edge mapping tool. These tools are widely applicable and are also used to assess people’s vulnerability and their potential need for WFP food assistance.
“Our cooperation with the Palestinian Civil Defence builds on WFP’s long-standing expertise in providing life-saving, humanitarian relief across the world,” said WFP’s Sune Kent who leads the project. “Through this project we hope that our expertise and innovative technology will benefit civil defence efforts and ultimately Palestinians because being better prepared means more lives can be saved, less damage to infrastructure and livelihoods.”
Simulation participants were spread out over different locations in the city where they gathered data to test the new tools. They entered the data they collected on their smartphones, it was then quickly assessed in the operation rooms and shared with headquarters where staff analysed the incoming information and created dynamic maps of the emergency. This process helps with making rapid decisions during emergencies to provide support to affected people.
The Palestinian Civil Defence had previously used a paper-based assessment system and faced challenges in collecting and sharing information quickly during emergencies. Switching to a real-time and advanced assessment system is a significant improvement. “I believe these tools will significantly cut the time we need to respond to emergencies. It will allow us to quickly collect data on the ground and provide the appropriate response immediately,” said the Palestinian Civil Defence coordinator for the South Nablus area, Nasser Obeid, who attended the simulation.
In the next months, WFP will provide support to three new emergency operations rooms in the West Bank. All this was made possible thanks to the governments of Italy and Canada who funded the project.