Campus News

Institute of Government faculty member trains U.N. humanitarian responders

Karen Payne

When catastrophe strikes, relief organizations rely on accurate maps and relevant local data from United Nations specialists trained by a team that includes a faculty member with UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Karen Payne, one of the institute’s geographic information systems experts, trains information management officers with the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in collecting and applying critical GIS data. The data includes locations of towns, roads, rivers and administrative boundaries. Relief organizations rely on this information to set up facilities like
emergency shelters and medical clinics.

The U.N. specialists provide maps, population data and other basic facts to help individual humanitarian agencies work together to coordinate disaster responses in parts of the world where reliable information is scarce or nonexistent. They also prepare reports about humanitarian emergencies such as the refugee crisis in Syria and develop plans that help the U.N. and its partners organize aid operations.

The U.N. inaugurated its Information Management Preparedness and Coordination Training program last year to better prepare field staff stationed in far-flung places like Pakistan, Kenya and Colombia. All of the trainers except Payne are U.N. personnel. Each weeklong session covers a variety of increasingly complex subjects, concluding with a disaster simulation.

Payne provided GIS training in Egypt at a session in September about the regional consequences of the war in Syria. In late November, she traveled to Cape Town to lead classes focused on displaced civilians in Sudan and South Sudan. This year, trainings are planned in Bangkok, Dakar and Geneva.

Payne’s assignment is to help the information management officers better understand and apply GIS information to prepare for humanitarian emergencies and to respond effectively when one occurs. Participants study ways to assess the accuracy of data, clean the data and provide consistent and precise information for other U.N. offices and partner agencies.

Payne has worked with GIS and other spatial and information technologies since joining the Institute of Government’s Information Technology Outreach Services division in 2007. Her faculty position includes managing the Geographic Information Support Team repository, an online archive of global data hosted by UGA and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The U.N. and fellow members of the humanitarian community such as USAID, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders access the GIST repository to retrieve and share data they use for emergency preparedness and humanitarian responses. USAID supports the repository and funds Payne’s work training information management officers.

“We provide critical GIS and data management services to government agencies throughout Georgia, and our collaboration with USAID is evidence that confidence in our expertise extends to national and international organizations as well,” said Laura Meadows, director of the Institute of Government.