Dodwell in 2013 SOM1 Jakarta - Post 6

February 02, 2013

Yesterday I was in “emergency response” mode: Pak Amin was tied up at the Economic Committee presenting his summary of our ABAC1 in Manila, but his Indonesian government colleagues were insistent: please can you have someone participate in our “Emergency Response Travel Facilitation Policy Dialogue” which someone must for sure be calling the ERTFPD. Of course, with the Great Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami, the Christchurch earthquake, and the US’s Hurricane Katrina to anchor the discussion, there was a great deal of sobering experience to get teeth into. First immigration officials, and then customs colleagues, poured over lessons learned in keeping channels open – which in short meant coping with restoring their own systems, and bending or breaking rules to help necessary people or goods to reach the traumatized region. Like allowing Japan’s customs inspection boats to be used to carry urgently needed supplies.

Head of the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre, Said Faisal, which continuously monitors disaster risks across the region, and provides standby support if it is requested, was blunt: “Disasters are chaotic and confusing and will always be so… but there are lessons to be learned about the DNA of a disaster.” Foremost, perhaps: “Giving relief is much easier than receiving it”. Second, know in advance what resources you have inside a country, and where those resources are – these are always going to be more helpful for early response than help or supplies brought in from overseas. The Centre’s website www/ahacenter/org looks to be an excellent resource for anyone wanting to track a disaster across the ASEAN region.

The list of challenges faced when disasters strike are immensely longer than you think: local food and drug regulations make it impossible to send in many drugs or food  – and Australia does not allow search dogs into the country – search teams yes, but not their dogs; Are foreign doctors sent to a disaster qualified to work in the country?  What about language challenges, or generator equipment that is inoperable because of different machine operating standards? One interesting thought thrown in for consideration was the idea of an “Emergency Response Travel Card” provided to bona-fide relief workers in economies around the region, enabling them to move at speed into a disaster area without having to wait for usual visa clearance? The APEC Business Travel Card provides a sort of template.

For us in business, the keenest reminder is the need for emergency or crisis preparedness training and business continuity planning. Clearly SMEs are hardest hit here, since they rarely have the time or resources to make such comprehensive plans. Maybe within APEC we could be devoting part of one of our SME Summits to their specific challenges of business continuity planning.

But through the whole day of discussion, one ABAC theme kept returning and returning: in major crisis, every bottleneck, every chokepoint, costs lives. Customs officials can rapidly clear consignments of medicines or relief supplies if they know they come from trusted sources; if consignments can be tracked in real time, then speed of progress to a destination is traceable, and the risk of relief items being misappropriated is greatly reduced. In short, if Global Data Standards were in place, then the work of Immigration and Customs officials would be greatly eased in those chaotic early stages of a disaster. Another reason why this year’s focus on global data standards is so relevant. Needlesstosay, I was asked to outline briefly how global data standards could be of value to those around the table and the agencies they represent.


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