Wednesday, January 15, 2014

In disasters, 72 is the magic number...

The First 72 hours following an event, depending on the size of the impacted area and the severity of the event itself, are usually a black hole when it comes to information and action. The only activities that are taking place are search and rescue, and that falls to (depending on size, scope, geography) a handful of professionals, friends, family, or passersby of those in need. This is a time fraught with uncertainty on almost everything: number of dead / injured, missing persons, damage estimates to public and private structures, impacts to critical infrastructure, greatest unmet needs, which organizations are sending personnel where, credibility of information through formal and informal channels, etc...

It's in the first 72 hours that the level of preparation of those impacted and those responsible for organizing a response comes into play. For individuals and municipalities with lower levels of preparedness, the first 72 hours are chaotic and disjointed and the black hole analogy usually applies. For those that have a history with disasters or have taken steps to strengthen their levels of preparedness, the first 72 hours are a time where people take their places; the emergency management machine whirs to life and the activities of response kick into gear.

It's no coincidence that much of the preparedness literature tells you to have supplies for 3's because that's how long it usually takes for services to reach those impacted. Just look at San Francisco's preparedness campaign:, it's based around the 72 hour milestone. Due to the 'just in time' supply chain models that many grocery stores employ to save on warehousing costs, 72 hours is usually the amount of time before shelves run bare. In the case of Super Typhoon Yolanda, the scope of the event made the provision of aid a challenge that took 10 days or longer in some areas to solve. Remember that it's during this time when most communications and cellular infrastructure is down or overloaded, and the power to charge the batteries on which those devices rely, is in short supply. 

The bottom line is that even with our advances in technology and early warning systems, the first 72 hours after an event represent a challenge for preparedness and response practitioner's, and it's with that attitude in mind that unicef and socialab created "The Global Innovation Challenge: The First 72 Hours." 

This challenge is open to any and all with ideas on how to address the needs of Children and Families following a humanitarian disaster, with a focus on one of the following 4 areas:
  1. Energy
  2. Healthcare
  3. Information Communication
  4. Water / Food
The idea/solution can be a product, a new technology or process, or an improvement on existing technology or process.

If you have a brilliant idea that can help crack the nut that the first 72 hours following a disaster represent, logon and share it...who knows, you may win $15,000 in seed capital and an opportunity to work with unicef and socialab to bring it to life.

Thanks to my Chilean Startup friend Mr. Darren Camas for bringing this unique contest to my attention.

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