When emergencies as the tsunami in 2004, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 or the one in Ecuador in 2016 strike, how prepared and equipped are local communities, agencies and governments for effective response? This question lies in the essence of the new innovative pilot project ‘ALERT’ whose purpose is improving the delivery of the humanitarian aid to the crisis-affected populations. The ‘ALERT’ project is based on Cloud Computing services delivered via the Internet (Millard, 2014). ALERT is an online platform designed to be freely accessible by a broad range of humanitarian stakeholders across the Globe, with the purpose of supporting the implementation of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning (EPRP) at country-level worldwide. This platform is set and customized by Coventry University, in collaboration with well-experienced INGOs and humanitarian agencies, in a way that fulfills the expectations and needs of all actors (START Network, n.d.b).
ALERT includes the four EPRP building blocks, namely risk analysis; hazards prioritization; minimum preparedness actions and advanced preparedness actions (START Network, n.d.a). The platform, which is now under test, allows humanitarian actors to feed in with their contributing EPRP information. And by simply clicking on the platform dashboard, it is possible to visualize, for instance, governments’ level of preparedness; which organizations are working and where, and what level of preparedness they have, the list of services providers or material suppliers etc. The platform will also have a connection to donors.
All actors involved in humanitarian emergency response will be encouraged to engage in this online-platform constituting all together a complex network. It is worth indicating that networks, as defined by Castells are:
sets of interconnected nodes, which process [….] value flows with the help of new technologies. They are self-configurable, complex structures of communication and power, which cooperate [….] according to interests expressed within the nodes [….]. They have the capability of self-renewal in the sense that they may introduce new actors and content as conditions change. [….]. (Castells, 1996; cf. Tampere, 2011, cited by Anttiroiko, 2015, p.9).
The networking mechanism will be in a way that each of the involved actors upload their own EPRP, with the purpose of sharing information among other actors and enhancing coordination for action. The importance of networks lies in making actions and decisions interdependent (González-Bailón, 2014, p.210). Disseminating information about the organizations’ own capacities, experiences and which sectors they operate in (shelter, Wash, food security, education etc.) will influence future decisions and actions.
In relation to the role of networks, Castells argues that:
…. dominant functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of networking logic substantially modifies the operation and outcomes in processes of production, experience, power, and culture. [….]. (Castells, 1996, cited by Anttiroiko, 2015, p.10).
These aspects are reflected in ALERT and in the added values it is bringing to the coordination system in place, modifying how local governments and international actors coordinate their action, by providing real time information updated according to the evolving situation in a given context.