1.3. Information management and communications in emergencies and disasters

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Although information during the first hours of a disaster may be abundant, it may be less than reliable. Therefore, the major challenge is to get clear information—from reliable sources that can be double checked—that reflects the situation on the ground and the priority needs of the affected population.

1.3.1. Damage assessment and needs analysis in health (health DANA)

Health authorities, along with the entities responsible for providing emergency assistance, should promote damage assessment and needs analysis (DANA) as a priority task. Below is a summary of the most relevant aspects of DANA. (The Inter-agency Standing Committee’s Multi-Cluster Initial Rapid Assessment is designed to identify strategic humanitarian priorities during the first weeks following an emergency).

a. Situation assessment and analysis

The essential areas to be covered by a damage assessment and needs analysis in the health sector include:

Description of the general situation: type of event, general impact, and socio-geographical characteristics of the affected area.

Effects of the event on the population’s health:

  • Assess morbidity, mortality, injuries, and general public health conditions.
  • Identify needs related to search and rescue, health personnel, emergency medical supplies, epidemiological surveillance, and management of dead bodies.

Effects of the event on health infrastructure and services:

  • Evaluate the functionality of the health care network and services, response capacity, and logistics.
  • Identify needs for patient referral and transport, medical supplies, drugs, and logistics (transportation, storage, communications, etc.), and for the health network’s communications and interconnectedness.

Effects of the event on habitat (the population’s living conditions):

  • Assess effects on water supply services: the population affected, the availability of sources, water supply and quality, and critical points in the supply system.
  • Identify needs for human resources; for equipment and supplies used in water quality treatment, storage, and distribution; for rehabilitation of infrastructure; and for health education.
  • Assess effects on sanitation systems (disposal of excreta, wastewater, solid waste), the risks to which the population is exposed as a result of inadequate sanitation, critical points in the sewerage system, management of other waste, and other risks associated with sanitation problems.
  • Identify needs for monitoring and controlling environmental risk factors, and consider options for adequate sanitation, human resources, supplies and equipment, and health education.
  • Evaluate impact as it affects dwellings, displaces populations, and interrupts other basic public services, and consider provisions for temporary settlements and the physical/sanitary conditions associated with those arrangements.
  • Identify needs related to managing shelters, controlling social/environmental risk factors, human resources and inputs for shelters, and health education.
  • Evaluate the food and nutritional situation of those affected by the event, in terms of both access and food safety
  • Identify needs for human resources in relation to facilitating adequate food management, balanced diet, nutritional evaluation, and special foods and supplements for people with special needs.

Evaluation of response systems:

  • Evaluate the health network’s capacity to respond in a way that addresses the needs created by the event. Take stock of the network’s organization and the resources available to it
  • Identify the resources and actions required to respond adequately to the event’s health effects and the damage that it has generated to infrastructure and services. The elements to consider here range from human, material, and financial resources to recommendations on decisions to address the situation (declaration of health emergency, evacuation, declaring buildings uninhabitable, etc.).