Hurricane Irma: U-Report works to protect children
By Victoria Maskell
The sun never sets on UNICEF – and when children are in danger, the global community leaps into action to protect them.
Saturday night Panama. Sunday morning Bangkok. Middle of the night in France. What do they have to do with a hurricane forming in the Caribbean? It means using every available UNICEF channel to get life-saving ‘be prepared’ messages through to those who may be affected, and doing it with no time lost.
U-Report is a platform that UNICEF and partners use to bring about social change. Usually, we use it to ask youth and adolescents their opinions which we share with partners, but when a natural disaster is on the horizon, we can activate it to send short, sharp, simple messages to those living in the path of the storm to help keep them and their families safe.
On Saturday night, Panama time, the alert comes from UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean regional office (LACRO) that a large hurricane is brewing. Some quick internal conversations via WhatsApp between the UNICEF Regional Advisor and U-Report LACRO Coordinator in Panama and it’s agreed that we should use U-Report to provide vital information. We need help from the Global Innovation Centre. A quick email or two later and the Bangkok office gets things going and gives the green light to promote with U-Report Global via Facebook in the countries in the path of Hurricane Irma – from St Kitts to Antigua, Haiti to Barbados, we want people to know basic life-saving information. And in this part of the world, that means having everything available in English, Spanish and French.
A few hours later, the U-Report Global Campaign Manager wakes up at 6am and starts to work on the alerts and gets them posted before Panama is awake. She then takes the messages that have been prepared by the Emergency Team at UNICEF LACRO and makes them ‘U-Report friendly’ before the U-Report Global Coordinator in Chile checks the Spanish and a coordinator in France translates into French.
It’s a global effort and it means that within 24 hours we’ve sent ‘how to stay safe’ messages to 2,500 people: 48 hours later, that number stood at 8,500.
Last night Panama time, between 9pm and midnight, a new U-Reporter was accessing information about Irma every 10 seconds. Irma is now a category 5 hurricane. That’s the highest storm category possible and could mean potential devastation to lives, building, and livelihoods. Through our Facebook alerts, UNICEF’s team is reaching more people in the crucial hours before the hurricane hits – each hour over a hundred more people choose to receive these messages about how to protect themselves. It means that we’ll then be able to keep in touch with these U-Reporters and identify their needs if and when heavy rain, mudslides, tidal waves and exceptionally strong winds hit. Most importantly, it means we can do our work to help keep more children and adolescents safe.
We sometimes forget the power of the global community, but a global team allows us to respond quickly. U-Report Global aims to bring about social change and champions the very idea of a global community. As Hurricane Irma gathers force across the Atlantic, we hope it is kind to those in its path, and we hope that U-Reporters are able to use the information sent to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.
Victoria Maskell is U-Report Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean