Experts predict the 2020 hurricane season will feature the highest number of storms forecasted in 40 years. Meanwhile, wildfires threaten much of California and the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to hurt communities around the globe.

Non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross, with extensive knowledge of disaster preparation and response, help respond to these disasters quickly.

“Demand for our services is increasing,” said Trevor Riggen of the American Red Cross. “In 2014, the Red Cross was initiating a major domestic disaster response approximately every 34 days. Today, we are responding to significant disasters about every two weeks.”

Aon partners with the Red Cross to help clients and communities become more resilient to climate change, natural disasters, and public health crises. How will this kind of work become even more important as we adjust to a post-COVID world?

Pairing data with boots on the ground
The Aon and Red Cross partnership is driven by a mutual commitment to boosting a community’s resilience. But both organizations also understand the critical role of data and analytics play in preparing for and responding to risk.

In Aon’s daily work, data and analytics helps ensure client organizations can assess and manage their risks fully. When it comes to preparing for the unthinkable, like natural disasters and pandemics, this data is even more crucial to pinpoint vulnerabilities.

The Red Cross also relies on data to predict the communities and areas that are most vulnerable to natural disasters. Many remote communities around the world are not on the maps that responders use to deliver lifesaving aid. To get relief into people’s hands more quickly, the Red Cross uses virtual volunteers to map high-risk areas. The resulting digital maps help expedite the delivery of emergency supplies, determine where help is needed most, and even track the spread of diseases like Ebola and the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

By supporting the Missing Maps program, Aon volunteers help strengthen humanitarian relief efforts in communities most vulnerable to crises resulting from natural disasters, disease outbreaks, epidemics, or conflict.

“When we consider the need for strong contact tracing and mitigation efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic, having quality maps on which to overlay outbreak data and being able to see links between towns and countries is critical in being able to understand and curb the spread of the pandemic,” said Beth Gallagher, Aon’s Director of Community Involvement. “Being able to play even a small role in supporting these efforts is really empowering for our colleagues and we’re so proud that our partnership with the Red Cross has connected us with this incredibly impactful opportunity.”

Building resilience
With extensive data on the full risk landscape, Aon works to help clients build resilience to common risks, as well as black swan events like pandemics.

“The last few years have shown the increasing risks surrounding multiple, or compounded, extremes of large-scale natural disaster and humanitarian events occurring at the same time,” said Steve Bowen, Director & Meteorologist and Head of Catastrophe Insight at Impact Forecasting in Aon. “These connected events require organizations in the public and private sectors to more broadly consider ways to reduce risk and analyze their own resilience measures as these more complex scenarios occur with more frequency.”

The Red Cross, understanding the increase in natural and humanitarian disasters in the last decade, are doing the same in communities. They work to empower people with the knowledge and resources they need to make them ready for and more resilient in the face of these emergencies. They’ve created a series of emergency preparedness mobile apps—including first aid and early warning apps customized to local communities around the globe.

Due to the current pandemic, The Red Cross is also practicing resilience in their own responses. With the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, the Red Cross is creating new protocols for emergency response, including opening more shelters for fewer people, using surgical masks, gloves, face shields, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for the disaster workforce and the people they serve, and providing some disaster relief virtually, including mental health support and financial assistance.

Understanding costs
Every year, Aon gives more than USD$500,000 to the Red Cross for their humanitarian work. Over the last decade of our partnership, this has totaled more than USD$6.5 million. Plus, we sponsor the emergency operations center for the Red Cross of Illinois, a state-of-the-art facility capable of serving the growing needs of the Chicago community.

Funds are critical to client and community response during disasters, in part by helping the Red Cross focus on the individual costs.

“We often hear about disasters totaling billions of dollars, or impact measured in thousands of people affected and displaced,” said Riggen. “What can get lost is the individual impact. The families that lose their homes. The trauma to the kids trying to figure out their new world. The loss of a job. Our services help with immediate shelter and food, but also with the critical mental health support individuals need, as well as direction on the practical next steps to recover.”

Preparing for your future
A critical part of creating a new better after the COVID-19 pandemic will be preparation, for challenges to both organizations and communities.

Partnerships like Aon and the Red Cross may provide a guide along the way.

“I am truly proud of the work we are doing to revolutionize our service delivery and help make communities safer,” said Riggen. “I’m also grateful for the support we get from our generous volunteers, community partners and philanthropic donors – like Aon – who stand alongside us to ensure we can innovate and better support the needs of people impacted by disasters.”