Using data for a positive impact

Natural disasters occur more and more, so it is important that aid workers have fast and accurate data to make effective decisions and save lives. The Dutch Red Cross started project ‘510’ to provide data-driven services that translate digital data into useful information for all Red Cross National Societies.

Disaster relief

Disaster relief

It is crucial for the success of aid workers to have the most up to date information before, during and after a disaster has struck. Where are most of the affected people? How many and which buildings were damaged and how badly? Which roads are accessible? What agricultural land is still viable? The 510 service coordinates a dedicated team of staff and volunteers who can be activated to create products that provide information to answer such questions.

The service supports data-driven decision-making to improve the speed, quality and cost-effectiveness of humanitarian help during 4 phases of disaster:

  • Disaster preparedness through digital risk assessment.
  • Early warning through predictive impact analytics.
  • Disaster response through emergency data support.
  • Support in any phase of a disaster or crisis, through direct digital aid.

Satellite images and aerial photographs are used as data sources in many of these efforts.

Ease of use

Providing the right information is important, but ease of use also plays a vital part. Non-data driven humanitarian help have little space to further develop . 510 works from the idea that many end-users should be able to understand and use its information products without extra help. The service embeds human-centred design in its creation processes, ensuring that users are involved in the development of both products and service-delivery methods, from start to roll-out.

Data verification

To ensure that the data is correct and trustworthy, 510 first checks if the information is authentic. They also look at where the data is stored, who published it and when it was issued. Added to that, the organisation inspects where data was uploaded and when smart phones were used.

Not only internal staff can benefit from this data, but also funding agencies and policy-makers. It will help them to assess the potentials of digital-driven approaches for the humanitarian sector.

Examples from the field

The service proved its significance before typhoon Mangkhut landed in the Philippines back in 2018. ‘510’ supported the Philippine Red Cross with damage predictions based on forecasted wind data and continued its support 6 hours after the typhoon landed based on actual data. Expected priority areas both before and after landfall were determined, which supported the Red Cross’ response to the disaster.

Another example from 2018 is Central Kenya’s dam burst that caused a major flash flood. Local aid workers had difficulty estimating how many people lived in the area and needed help. The Kenyan and Malawi Red Cross Data Team, together with 510, created a map that estimated how many buildings were affected and also indicated their original locations.