Planning better disaster response with the Climate Centre

Originally posted on the Aspiration blog

The Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre is an interesting organization, tasked with advising all the different Red Cross and Red Crescent groups, whether country- or topic-based, to understand and reduce the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on vulnerable people. Some of this has to do with understanding long-term trends and shifts, some of it with training about how climate works, and some in specialized support and resources. I’ve gotten a chance to work with them in the past, both before my time with Aspiration, as well as with Aspiration. Together we recently published an animation explaining something called Forecast-Based Financing, which we’re excited to share with you!

Climate science, like most sciences, is often communicated poorly and is therefore less than fun to learn, let alone act upon. The Climate Centre crew doesn’t just focus on what they communicate, but also how it’s communicated. They’re also exceptional in bringing trainees into a space of active engagement around climate-based issues. They primarily do so through games (which are all also presented in easy-to-use formats, under creative commons, be still my Commons-based heart). Many of these have been developed through working with those affected by and/or responding to extreme events. Participants are asked to describe the systems in which they interact — the delays, costs, resources, and goals of their community or organization. These descriptors become an easy-to-communicate set of game rules. The randomness of success is externalized for discussion — two people making the exact same choice might end up in very different places simply because one person rolled a 6 (a flood), and another rolled a 4 (a healthy amount of rain). The associated feelings of self-righteousness about “right” and “wrong” choices can then be explored safely. Additionally, after playing through and understanding the game, participants are asked if they would make any changes to the rule set — which must then be expressed concisely and agreed upon by everyone. Iterations of the game are then played with those rule changes. Did it help out the entire system? If so, what would it take to actually enact that rule change?

One such game is called Paying for Predictions. From their website, “the humanitarian movement under-utilizes climate forecasts for a number of reasons, some of which include:

  • These forecasts are not always disseminated to the appropriate decision makers in the movement.
  • Red Cross Red Crescent employees often do not understand the forecasts.
  • If the forecasts are understood, employees are often unclear on what types of action could be taken in preparation for a potential disaster.
  • Employees fear “acting in vain”, ie: taking disaster preparedness measures when a disaster does not manifest itself.
  • Funding is often not available until after the disaster has already occurred.
  • Playing this game is one step towards helping publicize the potential value of these forecasts, and helps break down some of these barriers to their effective use.”

By playing this game across the engagement spectrum from frontline communities to official responders to funders of programs, a change of rules was suggested on every front, now called Forecast Based Financing. This rule change means instead of always reacting to extreme events after they happen, funding should be made available based on forecasts, which allow us to take more precise action in advance of a likely extreme event. This would diminish both suffering and costs, while also increasing organizational effectiveness. This proposed rule change in the game is now being implemented by funders, communities, and responders alike!

In order to further express this idea, I worked with the Climate Centre team to produce this animation:

Forecast-based financing: an animation from Climate Centre on Vimeo.

What do you think? How would focusing on lower-cost but slightly-less-assured choices change your organization’s work flow?

Heatwave Hackathon

Hugs and thanks to Lindsay Oliver and the Kenya Red Cross team for their contributions to this entry.

On November 15th, I helped facilitate the Red Cross Crescent Climate Center’s HeatHack 2014, a gathering of amazing people to collaborate on solutions to climate-related challenges. This event focused on the risks and impacts of heatwaves, and how to provide community care and safety nets for at-risk people during extreme weather episodes.

In case you wonder what a hackathon is:

A hackathon is a gathering of diverse people who form teams to work on addressing challenges over a short period of time. These challenges can be technical, physical, resource-based, or even social. During HeatHack, participants learned about heatwave challenges from climate experts and people who have experienced heatwaves firsthand. Teams formed around potential ways to address these challenges, and worked together to come up with solutions to present to the judges. Prizes were awarded based on innovation, documentation, usability, and inclusiveness.

Why “HeatHack”?

Heatwaves can cause power outages, wildfires during a drought, buckling and melting roads, burst water lines, and serious health effects such as severe sunburn, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death.

  • According to NASA, when the temperature hits 95*F (35*C) your ability to function drops by 45%. Your loss of accuracy is 700%.
  • MPR News reports that body temperature can rise to 105*F (40.6*C) if working outside in a heatwave. Death occurs usually when a body temperature reaches 107.6*F (42*C).

Despite the severity of heatwaves, the health risks often go unnoticed because the people most affected are easily overlooked in a large population, especially if they are poor. We need to create ways of responding to these challenges to care for people who are currently at risk and to prepare for future heatwaves. As the effects of climate change become more severe, the number, length, and temperature of heatwaves will increase – including in Nairobi! Climate change affects the entire globe, and Kenya can lead the way in creating solutions that help as many people worldwide as possible. Continue reading