Building African Capacity to Manage Disasters
The Facilitators’ Guide to Disaster Management and single points of failure (SPOF) diagnostics, developed by Bournemouth University’s Disaster Management Centre, helps African disaster managers identify SPOF, enhance governance of disaster risk, and manage disasters efficiently.
Lee Miles, Professor and Deputy Dean, Bournemouth University
Call to Action
The main motivator for this innovation was to meet the urgent need for African disaster managers and stakeholders to be able to detect and understand deficiencies that could potentially lead to partial or full breakdowns in disaster management. This innovation was implemented in West Africa, focusing primarily on Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is prone to climate-related disasters like fires, water shortages, floods, and mudslides. The country has also seen serious disease outbreaks like Ebola and COVID-19. On the World Risk Index 2021, Sierra Leone rates 47th among 181 nations, recording high scores for vulnerability, susceptibility, and lack of coping capacities.
The solution often propagated by international institutions like the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction or the World Bank has been to develop formal disaster risk management programs. Sierra Leone also has a new National Disaster Management Agency, launched in November 2020. However, “shiny” new systems are sometimes disconnected from the realities that disaster managers experience on the ground. In Sierra Leone, volunteers often conduct disaster management with limited funding. The gaps between the formal disaster risk management systems and practical challenges mean that the entire system will be prone to failures.
There is a solution: Alongside the formal capacity building, focusing on small, specific, and manageable challenges, referred to as single points of failure (SPOF), will prepare African disaster managers to better prepare for and recover from crises, turning them into societal impact leaders promoting resilience in emergencies.
Bournemouth University Business School’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC) developed a Facilitators’ Guide to Disaster Management, along with SPOF diagnostics, that enables disaster managers and stakeholders involved in managing emergency situations to identify SPOF, enhance the governance of disaster risk, and manage disasters efficiently.
SPOF could be deficiencies in working infrastructure, such as inoperable communication systems or firefighters’ broken equipment. Diagnosing and addressing SPOF is essential in building effective disaster risk management systems, so with this innovation, DMC prepares disaster managers to confidently face the disasters of tomorrow.
DMC has been working in Sierre Lione for almost a decade, supporting disaster management and recovery in the country, identifying SPOF, and supporting the country in setting up disaster management plans. In September 2018, DMC started research on the region and local SPOF. Since 2020, our DMC researchers have worked extensively with Freetown City Council (FCC) in Freetown, Sierre Leone, and developed SPOF-based local risk matrices, registers, and emergency action plans that were all integrated into an FCC Facilitators’ Guide to Disaster Management.
Via a series of training workshops, DMC has delivered the FCC guide to district disaster management committees, community disaster management committees, local councilors, community leaders, tribal chiefs, and volunteers in the 360 districts and wards of Freetown—altogether covering disaster response for over 1.2 million people. The guide is now used by communities across Freetown. At the national level, DMC published a report in September 2021 with key recommendations for national policymakers and stakeholders.
Bournemouth University Business School implements management solutions that support such regions as Africa to handle their natural disasters; overcome risks; and prosper economically, technologically, and culturally. The FCC Facilitators’ Guide to Disaster Management and SPOF diagnostics have been distributed across Sierra Leone and used for response to seasonal flooding and more than 16 fire incidents during spring 2021, including the Susan’s Bay fire in March 2021.
In addition, SPOF diagnostics and the guide supported the adoption of a Minimum Training Competence Requirement in Disaster Management by the FCC in September 2020—the first of its kind in Sierra Leone that provides direct guidance on key competencies expected of all disaster managers working in Freetown.
Most significantly, SPOF diagnostics and the FCC guide were incorporated into the FCC’s new Disaster Preparedness Plan, introduced in 2021, enhancing disaster management planning in the city for the coming decade.
At the national level, the final report on this initiative included eight thematic areas and 27 key recommendations for national policymakers and stakeholders. The report was launched on September 30, 2021, and was endorsed by the chief minister and the director general of the National Disaster Management Authority. Underpinned by the report’s recommendations, in July 2022, DMC has developed new standard operating procedures for the local authorities in Sierra Leone to handle emergencies and disasters at large dumpsites and waste collection sites in the capital city of Freetown.
- “BU Helps Sierra Leone Combat Disasters Through Resilience Research Project,” Bournemouth University News
- “Targeting Disaster Management: New Research Evidence From Sierra Leone,” The Conversation
- “Work in Sierra Leone to Improve Resilience to Emergencies in the Face of Climate Change,” The Sierra Leone Telegraph