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The Chairman's Blog

The UK’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Operations and Stabilisation Platform (HEROS)

September 21, 2023

At MetricsLed (ML) we’re about as excited as our team of software developers, cyber experts and project managers get about procurement notices and meetings.


But it’s a big one……the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) is holding its early market engagement (EME) for Humanitarian Emergency Response Operations and Stabilisation (HEROS) successor programme (HEROS 2.0) in London this afternoon.


ML’s Humanitarian Emergency Recovery Management Information System (HERMIS) has provided early warning, roster and deployment management and global logistics to the Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team (HSOT) at the FCDO since 2017[i].

HERMIS draws on data from over two decades of slow burn, recurring and sudden onset emergencies and incident response.  It was originally built out of ML’s experience of MIS developments for a complex $140 million US/UK led multi-donor programme of aid to rebel held Syrian enclaves.

It’s now a complex and dynamic system that pulls together and integrates warehousing, prepositioning, early warning, roster management, deployment, asset tracking.  It draws on data from a range of sources, networks, and partners.  It’s a system that can be used to stand up a fully connected ‘situation room’: a command-and-control centre with incident specific dashboarding and live feeds.  HERMIS has been through many iterations and upgrades and is now mapped onto the UK government architecture and protocols for emergency response from Duty Officer to Post.  HERMIS also been built to support all the UK’s official civilian deployments from across Whitehall as well as from prequalified and standing rosters of deployable experts.

Exciting times in digital delivery

So why, amongst this babble of acronyms, are we so excited? 

We’re excited because there’s a lot going in the application of new technologies to humanitarian relief: excited at the rapid developments in the technology and thinking on the use of platforms such as HERMIS for the FCDO and other donors.

But we’re also excited about prospects for digital delivery in HEROS 2.0.

Thinking for the next phase

For the next phase of HEROS we see all sorts of opportunities:

  • to build more capacity in the system through automation and the power of API driven machine-to-machine working: since 2017 the use of our API fed automated risk flagging tools has increased the number of crises that the FCDO actively tracks from around a handful in 2016 to over 130 in 2023.
  • To build efficiencies and cost savings into the HMG system by further building integration between pillars of the UK’s humanitarian response. Tackling siloes by linking and joining up elements of the early warning system with procurement activity and HR and roster requirements.  And by providing ‘single source of truth’ on all aspect of humanitarian response to ensure accountability and transparency.
  • To apply the power of AI to the challenges posed by seeking to ingest data from social media to inform both early warning systems and slow burn and sudden onset emergencies and incident response. The opportunities to understand and process what people are saying, across language sets and tracked by location and over time potentially offers huge amounts of intelligence and insight but systems seeking to integrate data from social media channels into early warning systems have been swamped by bad actors, bots and hostile amplification and have required huge amounts of human input – swamping a team of 50 in a Microsoft backed UN led programme in Libya.   Advances in AI should make it easier to sort and filter the data -identifying and stripping out misinformation and disinformation – and allowing for its effective use.  We’ve provided this sort of capability to US State Department and other agencies in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East and are eager to develop its application further in a humanitarian setting.
  • For vigorous debate on what constitutes the correct level of OSINT for global and local trend analysis. How much to spend processing what data?  Which commercially provided data should be used, on what terms?  Given the volume of narrative and unstructured data that’s out there future systems need to be designed to handle data on a per terabyte basis.
  • To further promulgate the use of data to challenge inbuilt bias within Whitehall (and humans more generally!). The ‘narrative bias’ still has a deep hold within the humanitarian response ecosystem with issues being identified, papers drafted and then the data generated to support the issue or narrative required.   The HERMIS system – with its focus on indicator sets and early warning – has begun to challenge the narrative-based mindset with the data flagging the issues rather than the other way round.  We’ve lots of ideas of how to challenge bias and overcome narrative led and analogue thinking.

These are some crunchy issues and areas and we’re looking forward to discussion and debate as the market is consulted on the detailed scope of HEROS 2.0.

Stepping back from the detail of HEROS 2.0 we’re looking forward with a chance to catch up more broadly across the industry about digital delivery in aid and humanitarian circles.   The slew of recent and upcoming projects that have core tech components, or focussed on cyber, data or digital delivery suggests that the best in class bilateral and multilateral donors – the World Bank, FCDO etc. – are now following USAID’s digitisation mainstreaming lead and beginning to set down a pipeline of opportunities in the cyber, data or digital delivery space.

[i] We’re part of the consortium for HEROS 1.0 led by The Palladium Group.