Close window

Responding to crisis. Building resilience.

From earthquakes to a refugee crisis that rocked the world – disaster and devastation has dominated recent news. But behind the scenes, there have also been stories of hope. Organisations from around the world have come together to pool knowledge, translate complex science into clear guidance, and build resilience – for whatever tomorrow may bring.

In a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis, the speed at which the world reacts can make a life-or-death difference. The Met Office will often join relief efforts within a matter of hours – sharing expertise with government agencies, organisations such as the UN and on-the-ground teams. It’s down to Met Office’s Head of International Crisis Management and Resilience, Gavin Iley, to coordinate that response.

“If an earthquake happened right now, it would be my job to ensure that those agencies that approach the Met Office for support get relevant information they need,” Gavin explains. “But in the longer term, the Met Office works hard with partners to build resilience – helping global agencies and governments prepare for, manage and reduce future disaster-based risks.”

Turning complex science into lifesaving support Whether it’s communicating with a member of the public who is planning a bank holiday beach trip or a disaster response team preparing aid drops, relating complex weather data to real-life scenarios is what the Met Office does best.

During the refugee crisis in south-eastern Europe, it wasn’t enough to supply scientific information. “We couldn’t simply say ‘it will snow’,” says Gavin. “We strived to develop a three way conversation – meteorological service to meteorological service and then onto the response teams – to move our weather information from forecasts into the all important impact space. This involved understanding what problems any snowfall may cause, whether it was blocked roads, poor conditions underfoot or an impact on temporary structures. By doing so, we could focus our analysis to provide more relevant and therefore usable advice.”

“Effective crisis response isn’t something that any one organisation can do on its own. It needs global partnership.” 

Off the coast of Libya, Save the Children needed to know exactly how the weather would impact on their search and rescue efforts off the coast, so the Aberdeen-based Met Office Marine team delivered tailored data – from daily route-specific reports and five-day forecasts, to wind speed and surface swell. In this instance, it was just as important to forecast bad weather as clear skies. “We learnt that refugees were less likely to set sail in poor weather, which gave rescue crews a window in which to return to Sicily to refuel and restock,” Gavin explains.

From weather centres to warzones

Painting a clear picture with weather data was intrinsic to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) work in Syria, too. By 2016, communities in Deir Azzor had become completely cut off from the outside world. Aid drops were desperately needed. However, that relied on detailed local meteorological information, which was virtually non-existent.

Using detailed atmospheric data, including wind pattern, speed and direction, the Met Office was able to provide the WFP with vital information to inform its aid drop programme, enabling the WFP to map the drops precisely. Sherif Georges, WFP Aviation Service Deputy Chief, believes this was “One of the main factors contributing to the success of this operation, delivering urgent supplies to over 20,000 families that have been besieged for over two years.”

But Gavin is quick to stress that this wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration. Not only did many different Met Office divisions have input – including aviation specialists, scientists and operational meteorologists – but the project involved everyone from Canadian airdrop specialists to global airlines.

“Effective crisis response isn’t something that any one organisation can do on its own. It needs global partnership.”

The power of partnership

Whether it’s reacting to a sudden disaster or building resilience to deal with future crises, sharing intelligence and expertise is crucial. Gavin cites the 2016 refugee crisis as a prime example. Within days, the Met Office was working with the Serbian, Turkish, Greek and Croatian met services to provide reports to the UN’s ‘winter cell’ operations hub in Geneva. The hub then used those reports to inform and better manage operations on the ground.

Coordinating the Met Office’s involvement, Gavin has a challenging role to play – but it wasn’t without rewards. “In the heat of the battle, we don’t have time to stop and think. But when you reflect, often a year or so later, you find yourself realising ‘you know what, we actually made a real difference’.” 

Paying it forward in Tanzania

The Met Office’s internationally recognised expertise in disaster risk reduction and resilience has led it to work with Tanzania Meteorological Agency and the Department for International Development. Drawing on its disaster risk reduction experience, the Met Office was able to support the Tanzania Meteorological Agency to enhance its early warning services and better communicate with both government officials and the general public – so weather warnings are listened to and acted upon.

 

The ARISTOTLE Project

The Met Office is one of 16 organisations from 15 countries that form the groundbreaking ARISTOTLE Project. Established by the European Commission, it was operational in February 2017 and by early March had already been activated on six occasions.

The aims of ARISTOTLE are simple; translate complex scientific information into impact-based advice for decision makers in the European Commission in the event of a natural disaster. As well as providing timely information in the event of a disaster, ARISTOTLE also looks to provide advice on developing hazards such as flooding and severe weather, so it can mitigate associated risks. To do that, its global members pool a huge range of environmental data from various sources – translating it into practical, actionable information.