Real-time IOM Crisis Communications System Deployed to Help Save Lives During Ebola Response in DR Congo

Geneva – The World Health Organization is now using IOM’s innovative Security Communications and Analysis Network (SCAAN) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to support the security of its staff fighting the Ebola epidemic. The effectiveness of this innovative crisis communications system was demonstrated almost immediately.

With the latest Ebola outbreak spreading in the country, health workers are responding to the emergency in remote parts of north-eastern DRC which are prone to rebel violence. In October 2018, containment efforts in Beni city had to be suspended after a deadly rebel attack killed 21 people. Last week seven UN peacekeepers were killed in a military attack on rebel forces.

On Friday evening, just after the SCAAN system was activated, a WHO residence came under attack in Beni and IOM’s 24/7 Operations Centre in Manila began receiving alerts via the dashboard. Support calls were made to the WHO staff in question. Shortly thereafter the WHO security focal point in DRC sent a message to all staff advising them to take steps for their own safety – particularly to stay away from windows and seek cover.

IOM developed SCAAN, a security mobile app and digital platform to enhance the safety of its own and other UN staff who so often are exposed to danger during their work, in collaboration with CENTRIC, a research and innovation centre at Sheffield Hallam University. Over the past year, IOM has field-tested the security communications system that includes a dashboard for security professionals to monitor global risks to staff and a mobile app to enable staff to send alerts and receive push notifications on developing threats to ensure a rapid and well-directed response for those in danger.   

This communications network connects end users with a network of field security officers who can bring their expertise and aid to assist staff in urgent situations. All these functionalities can provide urgently needed and potentially life-saving support, as they did to WHO staff working in the DRC.

On their mobile devices, staff are equipped with: 

  • Easily installed app to provide emergency alerts, receive warning information, and crowd-source reports about incidents in their vicinity.
  • One-touch contact with security professionals to get help and respond to requests for accountability and status.
  • Geo-location which can provide critical information in case of hostage taking or security incident.
  • Live interface with the UN TRIP system so that travel notifications can be input and received on the go.

On the live dashboard, security professionals are equipped with:

  • A map-based security dashboard for monitoring the status, safety and location of all enrolled staff.  
  • Graphical visualization of the number of staff members on the system, current location, and any indicating a “NOT OK” status.
  • Ability to push warnings of specific or general nature to all staff or targeted groups based on location.
  • Interactive analysis of security trends and threats by region, type and risk level.

SCAAN was born in the aftermath of the 2008 terror attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai during which tourists holed up in hotel rooms took to social media as the situation unfolded.

The telephones were disconnected and the only means of communication they had were mobile phones and social media – so people started using social media, sending messages about gunshots, asking what they should do.

SCAAN is also being rolled out to IOM’s 11,000 staff worldwide to enhance their security as they work in challenging contexts. Currently, as the rollout continues, SCAAN is being used by more than 3300 IOM staff based in 130 countries.

For further information, please contact Leonard Doyle, IOM Geneva. Tel: +41 79 285 7123, Email: