Implementing Benghazi’s First Emergency Response System


Note: there is an audio file embedded in this post. If the player doesn’t appear, try loading the post in a different browser, or listen here.

A Libyan man named Mafi drives through the streets of Benghazi. Mafi’s vehicle suddenly collides with another car, and the accident leaves him seriously injured. A witness to the accident moves quickly and takes him to the closest hospital.

The problem is that the hospital is closed. A militia group came in, and the staff felt unsafe and left the facility. But Mafi still needs help and he needs it soon.

This is the story that Kim Garcia, a public health graduate student at UC Berkeley, told during a recent presentation. The story isn’t true, but it’s based on true recent events.

“In doing our research we found that this is a reality,” Garcia said. “The Libya Herald reported that four weeks ago, a militia group came into the Benghazi Medical Center and intruded on the laboratory testing center, which forced a closure for about three hours and put patients at risk.”

Garcia was enrolled in a class this past semester called Designing Innovative Public Health Solutions. She and two of her classmates were charged with helping a client to create Benghazi’s first ambulance system.

“We were brought on to address a very specific problem within the establishment of that ambulance system, which is how do you create an ambulance system in a part of the world that has no formal addressing system,” Bobby Stahl, Garcia’s team member, said.

As the group dug into its research, it concluded that the lack of addresses wasn’t the crux of the problem. The issue they first had to tackle was how to create a reliable way to tell residents about hospital closures.

They came up with several text messaging solutions. One allows residents to opt in to a message alert system, which sends a text when a hospital is closed. Another lets users text a number so that they can receive a list of local medical facilities and their current open or closed statuses.

It’s now up to the client, Avicenna Group, to assess if something like this could actually have an impact in Benghazi.

“We’ll be giving our client a statement of feasibility, which will basically outline our innovation process, our methodologies, the research we conducted, the people we spoke to, our takeaway points, and budget,” Garcia said.

I asked Garcia if she’d be telling her kids about her contribution to Benghazi’s first ambulance system, if the city did decide to implement her project.

“If I were to tell my kids anything, I think this class for sure would be a part of it.”

The course is literally one of a kind. It’s been taught at Berkeley by Jaspal Sandhu for three years. No other public health school in the country has decided to teach it, despite Sandhu offering up the curriculum.

“There are people that do this in design schools and business schools, schools of information, computer science, applying human centered design, design thinking or systematic innovation to problems in those domains,” Sandhu said.

“But for me, for us, it’s important to take that process and apply it and situate it in the problems, the language, and the practitioners of public health. It seems like a small thing, but it’s actually, to me, where the rubber meets the road.”

There’s a reason I asked Garcia about sharing this with her not-yet existent children.

It’s possible that what she accomplished in this course could become part of her legacy. By the end of her group’s presentation, they found out that their client was interested in running a trial of their solution in Benghazi.

“It’s exciting to see that they have seen some of what we’ve done and hopefully we’ll get to see this in the future,” she said. “We’ll actually have to see how it all pans out and what are the effects of that after.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *