2020: A Year Spent in Disaster Regions

İbrahim Özer
Turkish Red Crescent Deputy Director General

Humanity throughout history has suffered from different types of disasters and been subjected to great devastation. Due to certain disasters like earthquakes, floods, avalanches not being able to be detected in advance or the necessary precautions not being taken, the traces they leave are equally large.

2020 is engraved in our minds as an unforgettable year for our country and the Turkish Red Crescent. Alongside the traces left by disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has deeply affected social life in Turkey since March. Generally regarded as a disaster year, this period has helped us learn some vital lessons and focus on community-based risk-reduction efforts.

The first major disaster of 2020 was the 6.8 magnitude Elazığ-Malatya earthquake on January 24 in which 41 citizens lost their lives. The Red Crescent got involved alongside our citizens affected by the disaster in many areas such as accommodations, psychological support, and in-kind aid, especially the nourishment task given to itself in the Turkey Disaster Response Plan (TAMP).

While the damage from the earthquake still hasn’t healed, Red Crescent disaster teams have given immediate response to a total of 137 disasters and emergencies, in particular the avalanche disaster in Van; then the earthquakes in Izmir, Van, and Bingöl; the Giresun-Dereli flood; and the Sakarya fireworks factory explosion.

Turkish Red Crescent disaster teams have successfully offered more than 6 million hot meals to citizens quarantined in the Higher Education Student Loan and Housing Board KYK dormitories due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two workshops were organized by the Turkish Red Crescent Disaster Management unit immediately after the Elazığ/Malatya earthquake, examining in depth many fields of activities from disaster-preparedness to response stages and discussing all aspects of the Red Crescent’s disaster response methods. Additionally, the current disaster organization, past mobility, and field experiences were discussed, and a comprehensive exchange of information and experience occurred with the participation of relevant personnel.

After determining concrete suggestions on the issues each unit had dealt with, a disaster organization structure suitable for maneuverability and a modern disaster-management model were determined to be immediately needed. Through this model, the Red Crescent aimed to implement technological development that contain innovative long-term solutions.

Each concrete proposal began to be quickly constructed. The organizational structure was worked on first. A detailed analysis was made on the structures and response methods of the eight institutions that are rather advanced in regard to disasters in the world. An organizational structure has been established that both supports internal dynamics and is suitable for the outside world. The methods of movement were revised accordingly for the teams to be deployed to disaster areas. Thus, teams are quickly transferred to disaster areas from the moment they occur and primary needs are quickly determined. In all the disasters that occurred in 2020, the Red Crescent has taken its place among the first to enter this field by implementing this. The first phase of the Kızılay Afet Müdahale Planı (KAMP) [Red Crescent Disaster Response Plan], which allows all Red Crescent structures to take part in the disaster response work by changing their shell in the event of a disaster while performing their own activities in ordinary periods, was completed this year. The plan is to achieve the goal of completing operation areas as the second phase of KAMP, which determines how all units will form in the Incident Command System in case of possible disaster and what tasks they will undertake. The foundations were laid for the Kızılay Afet Yönetim Sistemi (KAYS) [Red Crescent Disaster Management System] , in which many elements will come together (not just human resources but also equipment, vehicles, supply tracking, and logistics), geographic information systems will be used, and artificial intelligence applications will be included. After analyzing many parameters such as the impact area, size, and level of a disaster that will occur, the optimum intervention algorithm will be extracted by implementing this modern application, and the personnel and all other elements to be assigned will automatically receive the call to act.

Some studies have also been carried out with respect to the Türkiye Afet Müdahale Planı (TAMP) [Turkey Disaster Response Plan] in the field of nutrition, in which the Red Crescent is the main solution partner. A formation was established under the name Nutrition Platform for the purpose of allowing coordination with the other actors providing nutrition services. In addition to ensuring a more effective collaboration by collaborating with non-governmental organizations that will provide nutrition services in the event of disaster, a framework has been created in which certain standards will be implemented before disasters.

The pilot implementation of the Nutrition Strategic Plan was carried out in Manisa for revealing the potential, increasing awareness before disasters, and realizing the capacities of each province in the moment of disaster. The intention is to implement this plan in all of Turkey in the process of completing and maintaining the strategic studies of 9 provinces in the first quarter of 2021.

Initial studies have been begun to establish disaster response teams in each response center in order to be able to reach the field very quicky, deliver solid data from the field to the center, to represent the Turkish Red Crescent at the crisis table, and to prepare the field coordination groundwork until the main teams are transferred to the field. In order to carry out this capacity at the branch level, training for neighborhood disaster teams began being given in coordinating branch disaster teams and branches.

In order for the Turkish Red Crescent to be able to provide the necessary support in search and rescue alongside its nutrition services, two teams were formed in 2020 and provided with light search-and-rescue training. All response personnel in disaster management are targeted to receive these training in 2021.

We know quite well that disasters never wait their turn, and many risks are contained within them. Despite a busy year with disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Turkish Red Crescent aims to make every level of society a part of the solution with this awareness by developing intensive studies on models that continuously improve themselves and is working to prepare all the necessary sub-frameworks for this.

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