Using our skills for good: earthquake response training in Azerbijan

3Keel supports employees to volunteer in the community with organisations that share our values and mission – offering paid leave to do so every year. 3Keel’s Data Analyst, Luis Velasquez, chose to volunteer his mapping and data visualisation expertise to humanitarian mapping charity, MapAction, to support its mission to coordinate humanitarian aid in emergencies worldwide, such as earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

Luis joined 3Keel in 2019 to provide further specialist skills in complex data management and analysis, as well bringing his considerable expertise in geographical information systems and coding. His expertise is applied across a wide range of 3Keel projects, including for supply chain mapping and our increasing range of projects on climate adaptation.

This November, Luis embarked on a seven day emergency earthquake scenario training operation in Baku, Azerbaijan. Here he shares his reflections on the experience:

One of MapAction’s promises is to serve the international, regional and national humanitarian community, by providing maps and data to enable them to provide the best response possible.

The training operation in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, gathered 14 search and rescue teams, five emergency medical teams, one United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, humanitarian experts from around the world, and international organisation such as United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organisation. This was in addition to many representatives of the Azerbaijani government. MapAction sent three volunteers, including myself, to take part in the training event.

Before the actual training, myself and a number of others formed an “exercise control” group. Our job was to ensure the exercise was carried out in a way that reflects real life events as much as possible. This was important for ensuring the training fully prepared the host nation and others taking part for future humanitarian emergencies.

The training event started with the announcement of the humanitarian emergency due to a natural disaster – a fictional earthquake. We quickly got to work, and along with the other volunteers from MapAction, I immediately began using the geospatial technologies available to enable the effective coordination of humanitarian aid. I mainly coordinated and interacted with the medical teams from Russia and Poland, and the search and rescue teams from Azerbaijan, France, USA, UAE and the UK. My work focused on helping them understand locations of environmental hazards and medical centres, and coordinating their emergency response effectively.

After the event, I had an opportunity to reflect on what I had learnt and those who I had met. What really stood out to me was an encounter I had with a member of the British search and rescue team, who had been travelling around different countries communicating his passion and belief in GIS as an effective tool for search and rescue missions. He had even trained over 50 other practitioners in its uses. My conversations with him confirmed to me that the potential of GIS for assisting humanitarian aid is being increasingly recognised, and it is fantastic to be part of driving this.

Finally, I would like to share some of the highlights from my first experience of Azerbaijan:

  • Baku is a particularly interesting city which is full of bright lights and new skyscrapers.
  • The people of Baku are friendly, helpful and proud of their country and their heritage.
  • The food in this city is delightful. If you ever find yourself in Azerbaijan, then dishes Plov or Pilaf are a must, and eggplant rolls with walnuts will change your life!
  • Baku is a city from which you can look out over the Caspian Sea, often listed as the world’s largest lake. It reminded me of a song in Spanish (my native language) “En el mar la vida es mas sabrosa” meaning “by the sea, life is more enjoyable.”
  • Baku’s city centre is a beautiful place. The fortress wall is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, and its mixture of restaurants, music and people drinking chai is definitely worth experiencing.

Lastly, I would like to thank 3Keel. It is thanks to their belief in creating a better future for people and the environment that I was able to take time out to combine my career at 3Keel with my voluntary work for MapAction. It’s probably not lost on them that these volunteering experiences also help to build my skills, supporting the day job!

Luis F.P. Velasquez

Data Systems Analyst

+44 (0)7595 468170

The event was a fantastic opportunity to learn and apply my data and mapping skills into a simulated emergency situation. It was also fantastic to experience life in Baku.

I would definitely recommend eggplant walnut rolls to anyone who finds themselves there!