How the British Red Cross Use GIS for the Domestic Covid-19 Crisis


The British Red Cross has created new mapping tools using Esri GIS, which are being used by the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP) and its network of over 250 organizations, to improve collaboration as it responds to the Covid-19 crisis.


Designed to help meet an increased demand for support from voluntary sector organizations and the public, interactive maps are providing a shared understanding of need, promoting multi-agency working and increasing the efficiency of the overall response.


Examples of support provided to date include carrying out Covid-19 tests at care homes across Lancashire, delivering 800kg of food to a foodbank in Leominster following a 487% increase in demand, and supplying laptops to children so they could participate in online classes from home.


The British Red Cross is a founding member of the VCSEP, which was created following the Grenfell disaster and the London and Manchester terrorist attacks in 2017. Bringing together national and local organizations from the voluntary and community sector in England, to improve support for those in need, VCSEP partners include national organizations such as the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance, Salvation Army and over 200 local organizations.


Esri’s GIS has long been used by the British Red Cross but only on the desktop. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need to move GIS to the cloud, via a new Esri UK enterprise-wide license, enabling more open sharing of geospatial data, the development of online maps and dashboards and the integration of GIS with other Red Cross business applications, such as Power BI.

Central to the VCSEP Covid-19 response strategy is an interactive web map and a simple request for support service. These new tools help the British Red Cross and the VCSEP to understand and match which national and local voluntary organizations are best suited to meet requests from voluntary sector organizations for support including testing, vaccinations, food, clothing and PPE. Organizations including charities and statutory bodies can also use the online form to request help.


An online Vulnerability Index map has also been created with the Esri technology, giving users a clear picture of which population groups are impacted most from Covid-19, due to either the virus itself, lockdown or furlough, for example. A bespoke map developed by the Red Cross, it visualizes multiple data sets including clinical vulnerability, economic and financial vulnerability, social vulnerability (including physical/geographical isolation and digital exclusion) and other socio-economic data.


“By gathering intelligence on gaps and emerging needs, in relation to where the VCSEP partners are, Esri mapping now helps co-ordinate an efficient response and avoids any duplication of effort. Insights can be easily shared with members to help develop the best allocation of resources, with a focus on people who are the most vulnerable. Previously, local knowledge and relationships were heavily relied upon but now we have the spatial data to spot geographic trends and make more informed decisions to supplement vital, local knowledge,” said Alexei Schwab, Senior Information Manager, VCSEP.

Future plans for GIS at the VCSEP include the pooling and sharing of more data, currently siloed within member organizations. “This is just the beginning – there is a huge appetite within the VCSEP to find new ways of visualizing and working with data to support a joined-up emergency response. We are a small organization with a large network and better use of data can help drive further efficiencies,” concluded Schwab.


“The British Red Cross is proud of its role providing GIS and Information Management expertise globally to help those in crisis. It is one of the most requested skills following emergencies and it’s fantastic to see it explicitly highlighted within the new Digital Strategy for the International Federation of the Red Cross. The British Red Cross strategy clearly focuses on partnerships, and open data and digital systems are a key component of this, while the VCSEP builds on the British Red Cross’s experience supporting initiatives such as Missing Maps and Humanitarian Data Exchange,” explained Adam Rowlands, Director of Digital, British Red Cross.


“Location intelligence lies at the heart of any coordinated emergency response, fostering improved collaboration and communication,” said Stuart Bonthrone, Managing Director, Esri UK. “What the British Red Cross has managed to achieve in such a short timeframe is impressive, allowing it to become more connected as an organization, using cloud-based GIS and web maps to their full potential.”


This blog was adapted from Geospatial World (18th May 2021) British Red Cross turns to digital mapping to help meet increased demand for support due to Covid-19.


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