The 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the highlands last week, has again exposed the serious weaknesses in Papua New Guinea’s national disaster coordination and response.
Within 5-10 hours of the earthquake, information and pictures were already being circulated on social media. But the reaction from government agencies in capturing and using that AVAILABLE information was sluggish.
It is critical that it be understood that in the last 10 years, the monopoly of information has shifted from government to citizens. This means, people affected by the disasters are in possession of FIRST HAND visual information that government agencies need but are still reluctant to use.
It is important that this information is obtained and a draft sketch of the disaster is mapped out. (I’m just stating the obvious. I am assuming you already know this.)
With the arrival of mobile phones and Google applications, draft heat maps and graphs can already be pieced together using CROWD SOURCED data drawn from social media alone.
From there, disaster response staff can source contacts and verify information by contacting the sources of information online and through SMS. This can all be done on a mobile phone. You don’t need an office with internet access.
We need Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) for disaster response that are also known and understood by members of the public. Those SOPs should also include incoming and outgoing information management on mainstream and social media.
We have information that is available but we are not leveraging our strengths. Government agencies are working in isolation.
For instance, in the Southern Highlands, The Provincial Administrator, Thomas Eluh operates in a command center. On the white board behind him, are up to date statistics including the number of casualties.
In Hela, the disaster operation stakeholders meet for daily briefings during which information is shared.
Why is the National Disaster Center in Port Moresby still without up to date and specific information?
From lessons learnt during the Sendai disaster in 2011, the reach of public broadcasters like Japanese TV network, NHK were harnessed by the government because of the amount of information they possessed and the incoming information they were processing from citizens. KBS in Korea, does the same. Everyone shifts into disaster operation mode in order to achieve a common goal.
In a disaster prone country like Papua New Guinea, it is crucial that we review our processes and use our resources better.