3.6. Information management

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manejo de informacionDisasters require rapid response to save lives and mitigate the impact on communities. This is particularly critical in the health sector. Effective and timely response depends on the availability of information—from the site of the disaster through to the most senior decision-making level. The information should flow through the different levels in an orderly and consistent manner.

In an emergency situation, collecting and providing information is subject to the circumstances and complexities present in the disaster area, such as: (a) addressing the needs of the affected population; (b) improving the capacity of health facilities to meet the demand; (c) meeting urgent needs for essential services (water sanitation, energy) and (d) determining the need for humanitarian assistance.

All of the above requires a rapid supply of information that is practical, simple, and objective. Information for decision-making comes from several sources:

  • Visit to the disaster area to get an idea of the geographical extent of the impact and of damage to health facilities, bridges and roads.
  • On-site inspection for rapid damage and needs assessment.
  • Information provided by the community as a complementary source.
  • Information from other sources, including the media, community surveys, and interviews.

The information collected must be filtered, consolidated and validated by technical personnel. Situation rooms, where they exist, play a critical role in this process before information is sent to decision-makers at the Emergency Operations Center. The guide Information management and communications in emergencies and disasters includes recommendations that will facilitate the understanding and management of information in emergency situation, as well as the public communication efforts. The guide provides concrete guidelines for preparing reports and distributing information to various audiences.

Considering that the disaster situation is constantly changing and evolving, information must be sent periodically to decision makers—daily, weekly, or monthly—depending on needs, availability of new information or the stage of the disaster. Quick and reliable information not only aids immediate decision-making but allows for better planning in the recovery and reconstruction phase. Some of the most critical information needed includes:

  • Information on morbidity and mortality based on symptoms and syndromes.
  • Information on notifiable diseases of epidemiological importance and sentinel site morbidity, including in temporary shelters or refugee camps.
  • Information on the availability and operation of basic services.
  • Information on health facilities’ operating capacity and needs.

Click here to view a video on how the American Red Cross and Ushahidi (a mobile crowdsourcing platform for crisis information) are using social media for information dissemination in disaster situations.

Finally, a note about the importance of sharing information with the international community:

  • Reliefweb is a United Nations site with situation reports on world emergencies and disasters, country profiles, appeals for international assistance, etc.
  • The PAHO Emergency Operations Center produces weekly and daily reports on specific emergencies in the Region of the Americas.
  • The Humanitarian Network, a humanitarian information network for Latin America and the Caribbean, aims to provide an easy and coherent access point to quality and up-to-date humanitarian information from the Americas to allow for better disaster preparedness and response.