This article features an interview to Alberto Monguzzi, who works as Global Senior Advisor, Business Continuity and Security, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The IFRC, established in 1919, is a global membership organization operating in the field of humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war and armed violence. It is active in several fields, such as disaster preparedness and disaster response, climate risk, accessible education, equality and inclusion, and humanitarian diplomacy. To date, it employs over 20,000 people and it is active in more than 100 countries.

In the interview below we explore the current situation regarding the Mw 7.8 earthquake that took place in southern and central Turkey and northern and western Syria.

All the views expressed in this piece belong to Alberto Monguzzi and they are not to be intended as an official communication of the IFRC.

What is the current situation in Turkey and Syria after the earthquake?

In Turkey, the latest figures at the moment report almost 50,000 casualties, however we are talking about a country with well-tested response capabilities. The Turkish civil protection has learned from previous earthquakes and is able to mount a response to such natural disasters. Furthermore, compared to Syria, there is a central government with functioning institutions and infrastructures in place. One additional challenge at the moment is, however, people’s reaction to the catastrophe, as several citizens are joining protests against government malpractice (e.g., building regulations) that may have aggravated the consequences of the event.

Differently, in Syria there is, civil war situation and in some areas the presence of the central government is not fulfilling the mandate There are geopolitical interests and several non-state actors and armed militias that control different parts of the country. On the brighter side, there has been a temporary stop to the current sanctions on Syria, so that at least humanitarian aid can enter the country. Furthermore, the Syrian government has authorised the opening of two more entry points into the country, which is key to deliver humanitarian aid. Still, it remains a challenge to establish who has lost their house due to the earthquake and who has due to the conflict. This often leads to administrative issues in deciding where to direct aid and very difficult decisions at a humane level.

How do you protect your own staff in contexts of natural disasters?

The process starts with finding the right profiles. We open a call for internal applications to the mission and then we evaluate the different profiles. For such sensitive areas, especially Syria, we only select staff that has experience on the ground, not those who are waiting for their first mission. We also provide training to make sure staff are prepared to face the challenges they will encounter on the ground. At the moment we have expert and senior team members on the ground in Syria.

Then, we need to perform structural checks on key services and critical infrastructure for the mission, such as accommodation and transport. For instance, we need to know when it is possible for our staff to move back to hotels and stop sleeping in tents. This is part of the assessment to identify critical resources, including fresh water and food to avoid local epidemics. Being able to provide basic services to our staff puts them in the condition to operate and provide aid. In a sense, the response to natural disasters is not complex in terms of knowing what to do, especially as we have earned a lot of experience through the years. However, it can be very complicated in practical terms as it requires high levels of preparedness expertise and personal coping mechanism to manage the stress especially with continued aftershocks.

We also have policies and plans in place to handle health and safety. An interesting and lucky coincidence in the case of Turkey is that we had planned an evacuation exercise that took place the day when a massive aftershock happened.. This helped us react more smoothly and quickly, revealing once more the importance of doing the necessary work even when humanitarian operations was already started.

How do you coordinate the crisis from your headquarters? How do you communicate with your teams on the ground?

We have a central crisis team that activates whenever a new crisis erupts. They are currently meeting once a day, although as we move away from the peak of the crisis, they will probably scale it back to once every two days. The central crisis team oversees and directs actions from the teams on the ground, while also receiving feedback on the latest updates. Our role in business continuity and security teams is that to gather intelligence and preparing scenarios, screen possible candidates for the security and BC position, and monitor the intensity of the crisis should something else happen. This stands for all the other crises happening at the moment, such as the Ukraine conflict.

Another major point is communication. We always make sure we keep the relevant stakeholders informed, especially first responders. Sometimes we may exceed with communications, but it is definitely a better option than not reporting critical intelligence to someone on the ground. In this regard, it is interesting to mention the case of the Steve Dennis, a Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) aid worker who in 2012 was shot and kidnapped in Kenya. He sued the NRC for negligence and won, receiving a compensation of roughly 450,000 euros.

It is crucial to take care of your team and we always try to uphold the highest standards in this sense. In conclusion, I would say that duty of care and duty of communication are two important pillars of security risk and crisis management, and they should work in harmony with ongoing risk assessments and horizon scanning processes that can provide critical information for mitigation measures.


Author: Gianluca Riglietti

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