Planning ahead, preparing the Pacific for the next natural disaster

Planning ahead, preparing the Pacific for the next natural disaster

T+T develops website for the United Nations

In recent years, tropical cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis have cut a swathe of destruction across the Pacific. Many millions of dollars and tens of thousands of humanitarian aid worker hours have been devoted to recovery efforts.

Last year, Tonkin + Taylor’s Geotechnical Discipline Manager, John Leeves, decided he wanted to “help out more in the Pacific”.  Following a series of meetings with NGOs, government officials and the NZ Defence Force, John was pointed in the direction of the Fiji arm of the United Nations which is responsible to coordinate humanitarian logistics in the Pacific both before and during disasters.

Having undertaken T+T’s award-winning pro bono rapid disaster mapping of Fiji in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, John was fully aware of the logistical problems associated with getting emergency supplies to affected communities quickly and efficiently.

For the United Nations and, most importantly, Fijian communities at risk from natural hazards, being prepared – having the right supplies, in the right places, at the right time – is essential. So John and T+T Data + Digital Solutions software developer Bruno Naskovski set about building a specialist disaster relief website with the help of Senior Business Analyst, Jodi Leeves.

Dotted across the Pacific are dozens of warehouses stocked with emergency supplies. The website allows humanitarian aid agencies, NGOs, National Disaster Management Organisations and Government agencies to quickly identify where warehouses are located and what prepositioned stock they hold.

“The site will also do a couple of other things,” says John. “For example, two different NGOs could currently have separate warehouses in the same city and without knowing they could both have in stock the same items (sanitation kits and tarpaulins, but no water purification tablets).

“Now each NGO will be able to see what other warehouses are stocking and can coordinate and restock accordingly. By regularly updating inventories, warehouses can be organised so that there are no double-ups nor gaps and they have the right supplies required.

“The second thing is that by using historical data, we can anticipate what types of disasters are likely to occur in what areas and therefore ensure that the pre-positioned stock warehouses are located in the right places.”

To make communities more resilient in times of disaster could, for example, involve closing down one warehouse on the main island and building additional warehousing on the outer islands to allow for a more efficient distribution network.

The website is now up and running with a number of New Zealand & Fijian NGOs, but will be fully launched in October, in time for the next cyclone season.

Already, John and Bruno are moving towards giving the website enhanced functionality.

“We’re also going to start looking at each country and/or island to establish where infrastructure such as ports and airports are vulnerable to natural hazards risk and to see how capable they are of handling deliveries.

This project has provided our engineers and developers with yet another opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of at-risk communities in the Pacific.

“This project is an absolutely clear way to help our neighbours build a more resilient society,” says John. “All partners involved in the project have been fantastic to work with.”

“It’s been great. The best part is that it’s a ‘feel good’ project,” adds Bruno. “It’s better than any kind of award. Our ‘award’ is that the system does what it’s supposed to – help people.”