By Nicolle LaFleur in Beijing
Kristalina Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Civil Response, recently visited the emergency control centre of the Beijing Red Cross to see a demonstration of the organization’s innovative urban response systems. As the Commissioner tried out one of the bicycle ambulances, the message was clear: as Europe moves closer to humanitarian cooperation with Beijing, it also has new things to learn from China.
“I feel much safer visiting Beijing, now,” Georgieva said after touring the high tech control room and state of the art facilities, which also included a demonstration of the various emergency vehicles used by staff and volunteers for response in crowded urban areas.
The Commissioner said that the bicycle ambulance was an innovative and critical tool for speed in response, which can mean the difference between life and death. “I don’t think Europe has this service, and I would like to promote learning between Europe and China on the development of this kind of initiative.”
The 999 Red Cross emergency center, established by the Red Cross Society of China and its Beijing Branch in 2001, has 30 ambulance bicycles, 20 motorcycles and 203 ambulances in constant use in the city of Beijing. It’s technologically advanced call center receives an average of 10,000 emergency calls per day and dispatches more than 260,000 vehicles every year. It also manages 130 emergency stations throughout the city, reaching well beyond the city limits with the deployment of emergency teams to disasters throughout China, such as in the earthquakes of 2008 and 2010.
As well as visiting the emergency centre, Georgieva also met with representatives of the Red Cross Society of China and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), organizations which, she said were at the frontline in serving humanity.
The launch of the EU-China Disaster Risk Management Project and the inauguration of the EU-China Institute of Emergency Management this month has opened the door for closer cooperation with Chinese government agencies and non-government organizations, such as the Red Cross Society of China.
Red Cross Vice President Linna Hao emphasised the National Society’s interest in participating in the EU-China cooperation, and highlighted the areas that organization is putting exceptional effort into at this time towards improving its response mechanisms, preparedness and international exchanges.
As an example, she cited the Emergency Response Teams that have been formed from the response units deployed to Sichuan during the relief phase of the 2008 earthquake. The units were donated by European Red Cross societies and through their support, with that of the IFRC, the units are now embedded in branches of the Red Cross and are ready for deployment across the country. “These have already been deployed to the Qinghai Earthquake in 2010, and we are now looking to further develop the skills and equipment needed to support operations in other countries in the event of major disasters,” Hao said.
Commissioner Georgieva remarked, “Cooperation in disaster preparedness, prevention and response is fundamental to our prosperity, our security, our future. While the Red Cross Society of China stands at the forefront of humanitarian actors in regards to disaster management in China, it is the opportunities for better cooperation and shared learning that can move us all collectively forward in building our strengths.”