The Spanish Red Cross’s response to COVID-19: articulate all response capacities and accelerate processes of improvement and innovation

by | Jun 26, 2020 | Contributions

General Coordinator
Spanish Red Cross

Spanish Red Cross has more than 155 years of experience responding to emergencies of a very different nature. The capacities we have developed over these years have helped us facing this crisis that has been an unprecedented challenge to society and to the organization.

We are used to intervening in very vertical emergencies, which usually affect a specific territory, a certain number of people or specific groups. This crisis, however, affects the whole territory, the entire population and particularly the vulnerable groups we serve.

From the beginning of the RED CROSS RESPONDS plan, we identified the need to articulate a comprehensive response that would take advantage of all the capacities of the organization in a cross-cutting and coordinated manner and would accelerate processes of improvement and innovation, in which we have been working for the past few years.

Our objectives have been: 1. adapt the services and regular activities of the organization, 2. adopt new responses for the general population and for the groups in situations of special vulnerability and 3. support public administrations according to needs and demands in each territorial area.

Our main challenge, and our main opportunity, has been to do what we know how to do, multiplying the responses to a larger number of people. Thus, for example, we have distributed in 2 months the same deliveries of goods that we make in a year, about 700,000 and we still have followed at the same pace in the third month.

I would like to highlight the following key elements that have allowed us to deploy all the capacities of our territorial network to the maximum performance during these months on a continuous basis.

Comprehensive, cross-cutting and coordinated response: for 2 years, the Spanish Red Cross has been working on a new model of intervention and organization anchored in 6 areas of knowledge: relief, health, social inclusion, employment, education and the environment. This crisis has required accelerating its implementation, deploying responses from each area with a portfolio of unified projects and responses and associating quantitative expected results for all areas. This portfolio has given a framework to our territorial network, both in the response to people and in the coordination and management between teams. This emergency has helped us to improve the coordination of the different areas based on a common pattern of transmission of messages and objectives, with the repetition of messages at all levels – national committee, management, and national directors with their counterparts, minimum each week with coordinated agendas.

Flexibility of emergency units: one of the main challenges has been to respond to an emergency so transverse and profound, with mobility limitations that have not affected so much at the local level but have affected at the regional and national sphere, in the context of a country with highly decentralized public competences and thus, a very demanding and diverse need for coordination with many local, regional and national actors, which forced us to respond in a non-traditional format with emergency units.

To this end, the establishment since the beginning of the operation a special cell for the mobilization of capacities and resolution of logistical and operational problems with the best experts of national relief and international cooperation (complementary to the 12 coordination centres), was key in the first weeks.

Demand management: the crisis has forced us to manage the demand of people in vulnerable situations through all channels – telephone, website, referrals from public administrations or other organizations, etc. From the outset, setting up a common system for collecting and categorizing these demands and having a unified portfolio of responses has allowed us to scale the number of responses and be able to do it quickly. For example, only through the phone and web we have received 190,000 requests related to social needs. More than 90% of them have been answered in 24 hours. In addition, by recording all the demands in a common way in databases, we have been able to analyse their evolution over time, both in number and type. This has enables us to anticipate sometimes the changes we need to introduce so that our answers are relevant.

Communications capacities and information systems: for years, we have invested a lot of efforts in creating communication and information management capacities that are being key to this operation. Contact Centers, databases with records of all users, management applications of all interventions… Without these capacities, we would not have been able to manage the demand for needs in a proactive and orderly manner or to have real-time data of our responses.

We had a base not only of infrastructure but, more importantly, an organizational culture of registration and data processing, on which we have built and developed some accelerations and improvements. Thus, for example, we have adapted the contact centre with 600 points of attention throughout the country that has allowed us to launch more than 1,000,000 follow-up calls to vulnerable people, with automated agendas and with a system of mutual support among the territorial network to achieve this. If I had to highlight an element in which it is essential to continue investing to be better prepared in the future, it would clearly be the optimization and improvement of all communications and information systems to work with maximum efficiency virtually, both in the internal management of the organization and with the users.

Open Data: the infrastructure and organizational culture in information management have allowed us, for the first time, to have an open data display of the operation’s evolution with data updated daily and from records ranging from local to state level. In this case, it is an acceleration and an improvement, that we have been able to do thanks to the installed capacities accelerating the routes and registration guidelines that we had not yet standardized or related to non-regular activities of the organization and specific to this operation. This visualization has served as a catalyst in the territorial network to have a truly up-to-date record of our actions, since the data are visible in real time and disaggregated territorially, triggering a healthy competition between the territorial network to ensure that their response picture corresponds to reality. It is also being a key element in our commitment to transparency, much appreciated by public administrations, companies, and the media.

Mobilization and incorporation of volunteers: in a crisis of these characteristics, as always, volunteers have been key to multiplying our responses throughout the territory. One of the most positive elements of this crisis, which speaks very well of our society, has been the exponential growth of people interested in collaborating with the organization. This incredible opportunity has not been without difficulties in view of the need to multiply the capacity to incorporate and assign tasks to volunteers in an orderly manner. The simplification of our volunteer management processes in recent years and the launch last year of our Red Cross application for the mobilization of society, have been key to mobilize more than 50,000 volunteers and incorporate more than 26,600 new people. More than 56,000 people have downloaded the application, in which we have introduced a new functionality incorporating a chat boot to record the hours given more easily and quickly.

We have also made a profound change of our training model, forcing its transformation to the virtual environment. We have addressed the digital divide of users, providing devices and connectivity to continue accompanying them in the distance and facilitating access to the services of administrations or other entities. We have made a more strategic approach to our communication, qualifying and segmenting messages and narratives…

These are just some of the keys, but it is impossible to collect them all in this article. If I had to highlight a common denominator in this operation, it would be the construction and acceleration on capacities and changes articulated in recent years. Nothing we have done would have been possible without the previous foundations. Preparedness is key. And in everything we have done, the crisis has helped us to accelerate processes of organizational change that have come to stay and that will help us not only to better face the recovery phase ahead of us in the coming months but also the regular operations and services of the organization. It has been, and is being, a huge learning process. We need to dedicate the time and the calm necessaries to learn lessons both as an organization and as a Movement, participating in the spaces where we can exchange these experiences and continue growing together.

Toni Bruel, General Coordinator
Spanish Red Cross
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