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GESA’s Global South Advisory Council – Building Our Understanding of the Way to Better Global ES

The second meeting of the GESA Advisory Council (AC) was held on Thursday, March 13th, with members present from Latin America, Africa, and Asia... and what an exceptional meeting!

The meeting was called to update AC members on progress building out our GESA ecosystem, but also to begin the process of hearing from the members themselves – a crucial part of GESA’s mission is to help increase the flow of information between industry leaders in the Global North and Emergency Services practitioner leaders in the Global South.

The wide-ranging discussion covered topics crucial to the success of Emergency Services in the developing world, including:

  • How are departments currently staffed and funded? What personnel and services are available?

  • What standards guide Emergency Services departments in AC member countries? What standards might be needed?

  • How do departments and policymakers determine success? How do they measure growth?

And while circumstances range between countries – and within the Emergency Services cohort in each nation – all members agreed that there were some common themes plaguing the sector across the developing world that GESA can help address.

1. Regarding standards, all agreed there is a lot of room for improvement. Many countries model themselves on structures inherited from the colonial period (in Africa) or from large regional players like the U.S. (in Latin America). These standards are helpful in some ways, but AC members noted they are not always well-suited to emerging markets. Where standards like NFPA are referenced, they are observed depending on factors such as operational terrain, government policy, and available funds. As explained by Fabian Tan, Director of Consultancy at COSEM (an ES consultancy firm), “We take a risk-based approach in Singapore to cater to the different operational terrains throughout the city-state.”

2. Regarding metrics, the AC emphasized the need for better ways to measure success. The AC discussed the value of having tools that can help countries measure their progress to motivate investment in Emergency Services (ES). Francis Ndeleva, Chief of Fire Services at the Kenya Airports Authority, described the issue, “Without legislative and policy frameworks, how do you measure progress? Countries that develop such frameworks for disaster risk management can track improvement through specific indicators and milestones. A lack of frameworks makes it difficult to know if there has been progress.” The AC plans to go deeper on this issue to help GESA and other parts of the international ES community understand – in a time and resource constrained environment – how to best measure success in the field. Some factors to consider:

  • The easiest metrics to use as a benchmark (such as # of firefighters/population)

  • The greatest impact for citizens (such as response time)

  • The most resonant with governments, making the procurement process easier (such as standard templates for things like fire stations or emergency communications centers). Eulando Piñero, Fire Chief of Puerto Rico’s Volunteer Fire Department, illustrated the need to appeal to governmental sensibilities, “The government has a lot of budget, but chooses to spend it on other things besides ES.”

While AC members stressed the similarities in ES between their countries, one topic in particular highlighted the vast diversity of approach to and experience with ES globally: composition of the fire service. Fire services from our AC member’s regions span the gamut of compositions: old colonial systems, fully volunteer-based systems, fully paid employee systems, volunteer/paid mixes, and fire services that are sub-departments of the police or military. Jesse Hunter, Head Coordinator of Technical Management and Maintenance of Emergency Equipment at the Guayaquil Fire Department explained the significance of regional cultural norms, as “volunteering is very traditional and prevalent in Ecuador’s culture.” This is distinct from many countries in Africa and Asia, where ES cohorts are more often government employees (and where volunteerism to support the professionals is done on a more informal basis).

The robust conversation is just starting. We look forward to continued discussion and discovery with the Advisory Council and welcome your feedback on our GESA LinkedIn Group.

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