A call centre at the heart of a humanitarian disaster

Publication date: May 20, 2021
In less than 24h, TSF installed a call centre that allowed thousands of victims of the Beirut port explosions to ask for help despite a challenging situation in the country and the COVID-19 pandemic.
TSF teams visiting the families affected by the explosion

On Tuesday, 4 August 2020 two explosions rock the Beirut port, provoking serious damages and a high number of casualties. The accident causes more than 6,500 victims and 207 deaths. A TSF team arrives in Beirut right after the disaster, in collaboration with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination teams (UNDAC) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Once on the ground, the team identifies two priorities: helping victims to express their needs and assisting local NGOs in organizing the delivery of humanitarian aid. Local NGOs are overwhelmed by the demands, which can, until then, be sent only through an online form on Live Love Lebanon’s website. Therefore, TSF establishes a partnership with this local organisation and the consortium of NGOs, “Beirut Relief Coalition” to establish a call centre, with a real time assistance request system through a WhatsApp bot. This system connects affected families with the appropriate NGO catering to their needs, whether it is for medicines, clothes, hygiene or reconstruction.

When the accident happened, the world was already dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the situation even more complex for humanitarian organisations and the victims. The country has been facing political and economic instability for months. After analysis, humanitarians realised that the cost of telecommunications in Lebanon is amongst the highest of the region. Therefore, setting up a call centre reachable through conventional phones became very unlikely.

However, thanks to its field experience and knowledge of VOIP technologies, TSF’s team has managed in less than 24 hours to design a system tailored to the needs of the situation. The new solution granted access to an unlimited number of people, allowing everyone to operate remotely if necessary in order to respect social distancing and lockdown measures. This technology enabled the diversification of communication channels through an automatic system collecting requests via the online form but also via the WhatsApp bot.

Moreover, in order to facilitate the work of the volunteers and make it even more effective, the solution installed in Live Love Lebanon’s office used analog handsets bought locally, allowing rapid contact, supporting up to 8 simultaneous lines. Besides, the new solution enabled also the creation of temporary accounts and an automatic configuration of operator terminals by QR code with the possibility to make international calls.

After 8 months of operation, co-financed by the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in France, more than 13,800 calls have been made thanks to the system designed by TSF and more than 12,000 people have been helped. The initial emergency phase is now over and TSF has worked on a long lasting solution that will guarantee the continuity of the activities of Live Love Lebanon. In fact, although the request related to the explosions have all been processed, considering the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, the local partner wishes to expand the action and the solution to vulnerable populations all over the country. The idea of a call centre set up during the emergency, becomes now the cornerstone of a broader answer to the needs of a struggling population.

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