Many parts of the world lack effective – and regionally appropriate – tools for measuring success in the emergency services sector. Especially in emerging or developing economies, practitioners often struggle to capture the data they need to make their case for essential budgets, government planners struggle to prioritize emergency services, and donors and the public lack the ability to see progress, limiting crucial public support. What is left is a vicious cycle: a public often poorly served by a mostly under-resourced emergency services community that doesn’t have the tools or the expert training to deliver the service they know is needed.
Working towards a solution
In May, GESA’s Global South Advisory Council (AC) met for the third time to continue looking at what emergency services departments in developing countries should – and realistically can – measure in a time- and resource-constrained environment. The conversation was based on a survey of AC members who were asked to rank different categories of metrics based on level of importance, ease of measurement and what government decision makers care about most. If we want to measure our progress around the world, what do we count and where do experts think we can or should start?
Not surprisingly, most of the practitioners emphasized the importance of measuring emergency personnel and equipment.
‘Tangible things, like personnel and equipment, are easier and more impactful to measure,” said GESA Advisory Council Member, Fabian Tan, Director of Consultancy for COSEM. ‘Emergencies can be amplified when there is lack of adequate equipment, trained personnel, or regular maintenance, [so] consistent use of simple measurement tools can help.’
AC members also weighed in on another key item: budgets. The AC discussed how effective measurement could impact allocation of budget within their respective jurisdictions, but also the tremendous challenges of trying to use budget as a marker for success. In most countries, emergency services budgets exist across a number of agencies and ministries, making counting a challenge.
And in other nations, innovative (and sometimes complicated) financing mechanisms make ES funding contingent on outside factors. ‘In Guayaquil, funding for the fire service depends in part on [payments from] electricity use,’ said Fire Investigator and Volunteer Firefighter, Jesse Hunter. ‘However, a portion of the population does not have recorded electricity use, which means that we almost never receive enough funding to provide service to the whole city.’
Many ES community members noted that big, shorter-term events or emergencies often overshadow the simple, longer-term day-to-day needs of fire departments and others – even though those same officers are often the first line of defence in addressing major disasters. And they lamented the prevalence of ‘phantom budgets’ – resources that were promised by government but could take years to actually be released for use. Itote Waruhiu, Airport Fire Chief and EMS Instructor, commented: ‘Here in Kenya, we struggle to measure the emergency services variables as we would like. If something is labelled a “disaster”, it often gets funding while regular budgets for everyday emergencies are not enough to cover everything our practitioners face.’
All sides agreed that measuring public support and satisfaction was simultaneously one of the most important metrics to decision makers and rarely studied – a subject that GESA is beginning to tackle, working with Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Global Center for Public Safety. We need to build the tools to help practitioners track the success metrics that are important to them and the communities they serve – but we can’t do it alone. Please join the conversation. Share your insights and expertise as we work to build tools to measure and improve emergency services around the world. Look for more info and contribute your voice at our GESA LinkedIn Group and submit an application for membership.
For more information, please visit: www.gesaction.org