ERT and South African Red Cross Case Study Emergency Response Team

Collaboration in Disaster Response

Following one of the deadliest natural disasters in South Africa's history this case study explores the potential opportunities for partnerships between organizations with a shared vision, and how together they can make a significant impact on the communities they serve.

Working along side the national head of disaster relief, the ERT donated disaster management solutions to help the Red Cross team respond to extreme flooding in the Durban area, KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa.

The partnership between the South African Red Cross and the ERT showcases the potential for technology to transform national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and provide insights on how similar collaborations can be utilised in the future to drive positive change within the RCRC movement.

The event

In April 2022, KwaZulu-Natal Province in South Africa experienced record-breaking rains that caused severe flooding. According to the South African government, the disaster affected more than 19,000 households and over 128,000 people with 435 lives lost. The hardest-hit areas were informal settlements and rural areas, especially on steep hillsides with little or no infrastructure to protect them from the natural elements. Many of the houses in these areas were made of basic materials, such as tin sheets, wood, and mud, and were completely washed away with all of their belongings.

The flooding also caused extensive damage to critical infrastructure, including major roads, water treatment and supply structures, communication, and electrical systems, which greatly hampered recovery and relief efforts. Community infrastructure, including 600 schools and 84 health facilities, was also impacted by the flooding.

The response

The partnership between and the South African Red Cross began when the ERT arrived to South Africa after the floods began. While the Red Cross was the primary NGO leading the response in terms of providing shelters and interacting with affected communities, they were using pen and paper and struggling to gather all the necessary information.

The ERT recognized the opportunity to provide digital solutions and help the Red Cross automate their existing processes. Although the Red Cross was not initially in a state of mind for a full digital transformation at a national level during the emergency, they were interested in help processing and analyzing the large amounts of data they were collecting from the field to better respond to communities in crisis.

The collaboration commenced with a clear set of objectives. Upon their arrival, the ERT aimed to help the Red Cross gain a comprehensive understanding of the ongoing response efforts. Furthermore, there was a crucial need to grasp the geographical data pertaining to the affected areas. To achieve this, the team worked on creating a map view highlighting the most impacted regions, delving into each area to determine the specific needs of the affected population based on their geographical location.

Another important realization made by the ERT was the necessity to provide regular reports to headquarters, which is a lengthy process. These reports were designed to provide detailed insights into the mission's progress, while also conveying high-level updates on the unfolding situation.

The overarching objective was to streamline this reporting process by establishing dedicated stakeholder and donor pages, which would serve as efficient channels for relaying information, enabling donors to visualize the allocation of their contributions and witness the impact of their support firsthand.

The ERT created a reporting template, which allowed the mission leader to use data from dashboards and add them to the reports with a click of the button.

The challenges

During the deployment, the team encountered several challenges that impacted their operations. One of the initial and ongoing hurdles was the limited network connectivity, particularly in areas affected by the floods. The team often struggled to maintain a consistent and reliable connection. Infrastructure damage, including communication towers, exacerbated the problem, making it difficult for teams to send data from on-site locations and capture GPS coordinates.

Read our blog about offline data collection, our new integration with KoboToolBox here

In addition, although the Red Cross acknowledged the potential of digital tools to improve performance, program effectiveness, and efficiency, they had reservations about their use. Data protection emerged as a critical concern, and ensuring the security and confidentiality of the information collected through the platform became a top priority for the team.

The solutions

To overcome these challenges, the team devised several solutions. One approach was to find alternative reporting methods when network connectivity was limited. They would capture the necessary data on-site and send it once a stable internet connection was established. This flexibility allowed them to work efficiently, ensuring that vital information was not lost or delayed.

Through the partnership with KoboToolbox, organizations can now collect vital information from the field with Kobo's long -standing offline tools – in areas with no internet connectivity – and automatically integrate the data onto's robust online platform.

The ability to map different sites and communities with the platform proved invaluable to the South African Red Cross. Even when team members were no longer physically present at a particular location, they could still submit data virtually, and it would automatically integrate into the established map. This streamlined process facilitated accurate and up-to-date information sharing, contributing to a more efficient response effort.

Further, after careful review on the Security White Paper and privacy training of the Red Cross team, they were confident about data privacy and security.

Within just three days of implementing the system, the South African Red Cross had successfully set up and launched the platform for flooding response. As they began sharing the platform's capabilities with stakeholders and partners, they received widespread appreciation for the quality of data analysis it provided. While they previously relied on Excel and statistical packages like SPSS, what stood out with was its ability to facilitate both quantitative and qualitative analysis, which could be easily shared with various stakeholders.

Building Resilient Communities

The collaboration between the South African Red Cross and the ERT holds immense promise for a digitalized future. By integrating their program management (log frame) and day-to-day operations into a digital platform, The Red Cross can enhance coordination and management efforts significantly. As a volunteer-driven organization, having a streamlined system where coordinators can receive real-time feedback from their teams spread across geographical areas, in one centralized platform, is crucial.

The Red Cross recognizes how this capability not only aids in developing contingency plans but also strengthens the organization's resource mapping and mobilization strategy. This comprehensive integration of operations, spanning sectors such as food security, health, and psychosocial support, could enable the organization to better prepare for emergencies and demonstrate the positive outcomes of digitalization in both crisis and non-crisis situations.

Moreover, the Red Cross recognizes the abilities of a full digital transformation to track the progress of responses across different phases, including immediate response and early recovery, as a step for building community resilience and prepared communities.

Red Cross South Africa envisions a future where utilizing and traditional methods for communication coexist to provide early warning messages and timely information during the emergency and early recovery efforts.

The Red Cross has goals of digitalizing their current Preparedness Emergency Response (PER) toll free number, which provides up to date information during and after emergencies into the platform to bring the early warning updates directly to affected persons. Recognizing that not all groups may have access to digital tools, SMS and messaging platforms could be used alongside to reach a wider audience, including those with basic mobile phones. Traditional methods are not completely abandoned, as the Red Cross seeks to empower communities through their existing systems.

Having experienced the capabilities of through their collaboration with the ERT during the response to flooding, the South African Red Cross now embarks on a mission to digitize all aspects of their operations. They envision a digital transformation as a powerful tool to engage and empower youth, foster the resilience of communities, establish innovation learning centers, and enhance the overall quality of their work for the people they serve. As they stride forward, the South African Red Cross sees themselves as leaders within the region, embracing the potential of digitalization to not only elevate their own organization but also support and inspire their regional Red Cross partners in their own digital transformation journeys.

With their dedication to progress and innovation, the South African Red Cross aspires to create a future where digital solutions enable greater impact and humanitarian support for all.

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