Utilizing D4H for Flood Response in South Africa

Utilizing D4H for Flood Response in South Africa

In April 2022, the KwaZulu-Natal province in south-east South Africa experienced devastating floods that caused the death of 435 people and displaced over 40,000 people. As the country's official response has come to an end, Robin was joined live by Grant Tyson, Chairman and Kyle Nesbitt, Vice Chairman at Search and Rescue South Africa (SARZA), a highly-trained volunteer search and rescue organization in South Africa. Kyle and Grant discussed how the team approached such a challenging response, what tools they used to aid them, as well as some lessons learned.

About SARZA

SARZA’s mission is to provide competent, efficient volunteer emergency search and rescue services dedicated to saving human life with the ability to operate in rough and difficult terrain conditions alongside other search and rescue services in times of natural or man-made, civil disaster or emergency.

There are nine provinces in South Africa, and SARZA has regional teams in six of those nine provinces. SARZA was first formed in the 1980s as part of the Four Wheel Drive Club of South Africa. They had their first operations in the early 1990s. They were instated as a public benefits organization in 2018 and are comprised of volunteers from all walks of life, including doctors and other medical professionals who volunteer their spare time.

Typical callouts for SARZA include missing persons, recoveries, and national and international disasters. They specialize in both rough terrain and providing high-quality communications and logistics in disasters when infrastructure has been damaged.

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What skills does SARZA train in?

Many of SARZA’s founding members have a military background, this has instilled strong values of discipline within the organization.

All potential members go through an initial induction which gives a very realistic overview of what is required and expected of members. Anyone that wishes to continue after the induction joins as a “newbie”. The team generally does theoretical training in the evenings and practical “hands-on” training on the weekends. The minimum expectation is that members join at least one evening session and one weekend session per month.

The team operates a full committee which includes a Training Officer who puts together both in-house and outsourced training sessions. Outsourced professional training sessions include skills such as swiftwater rescue, communications, mapwork, radio operations, navigation, and medical training. When it comes to medical training, each member must hold an advanced wilderness first aid qualification at a minimum. Some members may choose to take their medical training further, or some members may be highly medically trained from their day jobs.

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Organization equipment

One of SARZA’s stand-out pieces of equipment is their Mobile Command Post (MCP), which is a large trailer that has been designed specifically for their needs. The current version of the MCP was designed by a committee of engineers who are part of the unit. The MCP contains defibrillators, AEDs, titanium stretchers, litter wheels, and monitors to display their incident management tools.

Local businesses have sponsored warehouse space where the MCP is stored. They use D4H Equipment Management to track the location of each item of equipment and when it is assigned to a member. Each member also has their own four-wheel drive vehicle which contains their personal equipment.

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How SARZA implemented D4H

In 2019, SARZA identified the need for a personnel management and equipment management solution. They went through an internal selection process and deployed a combination of D4H Personnel & Training and D4H Equipment Management to solve the logistical challenges they were facing.

As the team came out of the COVID-19 period, their funding opened up and they were able to deploy D4H Incident Management to help with their real-time information tracking and communications during callouts. They found that D4H was easily customizable and that it fitted in well with their existing processes and procedures. They trialed the software during two large-scale exercises before using it for the first time during a “real-world” disaster, which was the catastrophic flooding that took place in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa in April 2022.

Responding to the KwaZulu-Natal floods

In April 2022, the KwaZulu-Natal province in south-east South Africa experienced devastating floods that caused the death of 435 people, displaced over 40,000 people, and destroyed over 12,000 houses. A combination of the area’s hilly geography and the end of South Africa’s rainy season made the floods and landslides particularly powerful and destructive. SARZA team members were very passionate and driven to join the flood response with the disaster occurring so close to home.

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The photo below shows a container shipyard on the N2 highway which became flooded. Road infrastructure was severely damaged when containers from the yard were washed down the national highway during the floods. The roads had to be shut down during this period.

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SARZA was tasked by the Head of Disaster Management in the Western Cape province of South Africa. SARZA pulled a team together from all six of their regional teams and mobilized alongside the City of Cape Town’s SAR teams, firefighters, and the Gift of the Givers. Their initial tasking was to support Western Cape Disaster Management’s own response to the KwaZulu-Natal floods. On arrival, they were briefed and tasked at the KwaZulu-Natal Disaster Management Center. SARZA was based out of the Virginia Airfield for the duration of their tasking. Their role in the disaster was to act as a force enabler and a supporting mechanism.

Utilizing D4H at the Mobile Command Post

Pictured below, is Grant giving Sihle Zikalala, the then-Premier of KwaZulu-Natal an update on the situation for the day.

We were very fortunate that the D4H Incident Management platform was able to capture all of our updates, logs, and movements. Because of the capability and the tools that we brought, everything centered around our mobile command post and the D4H system. It provided an immense amount of value.

Grant Tyson, Chairman of SARZA.

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As all of the dignitaries started coming through and wanted to understand what was happening, we went straight to the D4H system where we had all of the logs and updates in one place. Incident Command then started sending everything through to us for information capturing. We became the central hub of information because of what we’ve got with D4H.

Grant Tyson, Chairman of SARZA.

D4H’s mission to 10X the effectiveness of emergency response wherever humans go

We’re ecstatic. We’re really thrilled and fortunate to be using D4H not only for our benefit, but for the benefit of everyone that we help and assist.

Grant Tyson, Chairman of SARZA.

D4H is delighted to have SARZA on board and helping us to achieve our mission to increase 10X the effectiveness of emergency response, wherever humans go. Here’s a short clip of Robin and Grant talking about D4H’s impact on the flood response in South Africa:


Watch the full interview on YouTube Watch Now


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