Municipal Resilience during Crisis - Kfar Saba's Municipality Response to the COVID-19 Crisis
In the SME4SMARTCITIES project we are studying and collaborating with cities across the Mediterranean. The recent COVID-19 crisis, lock-downs and emergency situation allowed us to see how cities respond, work with SMEs and support their citizens during the crisis
Avigdor Sharon, Urban Innovation and Sustainability Lab
Municipalities need to manage a complex array of services and to maintain continuous efficient coordination between its departments and with external providers. In times of a severe crisis, such as the Covid-19 epidemic, they need to continue to manage this complex network, add emergency services on top of them and adjust projects to the crisis. How can municipalities achieve this and maintain resilience? This is how the municipality of Kfar Saba, Israel, managed the COVID-19 crisis.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 virus resulted in a rapidly spreading global epidemic that forced states and cities around the world to take quick steps to protect their citizens. National-level and international lock-downs, changing directives of government ministries, a global state of unfolding emergency and the shift of the focus of attention to the health system, have required municipalities to quickly make necessary adjustments and to initiate an appropriate response.
Municipalities are required to provide responses across the board to be able to maintain a high level of services for their residents despite the emerging restrictions. They need to assist their residents with great sensitivity, to attend to a wide-scope mental stress that arise from coping with the closure of workplaces, schools and shopping centers and from the intensity of emergency situation news and changing instructions to the public. This becomes even more complex when the city's offices themselves need to close their doors because of the Covid-19 epidemic.
Conducting communications with suppliers and continuing work during the emergency has a great impact on municipal resilience. Yet at this time of crisis, maintaining regular operations is not enough. it is important to find and to implement innovative products and services that can provide new solutions and help in addressing the crisis. This is a time of a major challenge to the resilience and the capacity to adapt of the municipality organization itself.
Laying a firm base – a rapid municipal master plan
The municipality of Kfar Saba responded quickly to the evolving crisis by establishing a dedicated master plan. Eleven work teams with cross-municipal coordination were set to manage diverse areas of impact. The plan had to be very agile, to address any imaginable scenario and to keep up with rolling updates. For this purpose, the municipality established a central control center that is cross-linked with all municipality departments, and is continuously updated in all the aspects that might be relevant for the city. The central control center and the 11 work teams’ control cells have data management tools and reports of the urban situation, including comparison with other cities and Israel as a whole. They are also continuously following-up on municipal tasks and compliance with governmental regulations. All this was made possible thanks to the operating model, staging and training for emergency situations, over the years in Kfar Saba municipality.
An example of daily reports that helped the control cells to manage the city's response to the emergency state
Since the municipality's offices were shut during the emergency, following the government's directives, and many employees had to go on a forced leave, those few employees that remained to manage vital operations and emergency response had to adapt to remote mode of work. It is not only a technological challenge but also involves changing habits, acquiring digital skills and being able to work from home with the children around, since schools and kindergartens were also closed.
Therefore, it required not only the adoption of technological tools but also of communication methods, creative problem solving, spirit of determination and great psychological sensitivity.
As the crisis begun, the municipality has published video clips that presented the city's operations and provided important information to residents, such as "Kfar Saba Together: how the Department of Health and Resilience is addressing the Corona crisis", A conversation with Shai Zayd, director of Security, Safety and Emergency Services and other items on a municipal Facebook video channel, broadcasting from “Gallery 29”, the municipal Youth Music Center, which turned into the "Kfar Saba Live" broadcasting studio.
Broadcasting from the "Kfar Saba Live" studio at “Gallery 29”, the municipal Youth Music Center
Flexible adaptation of work plans and processes
In addition to the establishment of the control cells, the adaptation of work processes and to the rapid transition to online work meetings, in an organization that was accustomed to having frontal meetings, the Kfar Saba municipality also conducted quick changes to work plans such as conducting maintenance work in the closed schools, preparing them for regained studies during the summer vacation period. These adjustments required extensive collaborations with suppliers and other businesses. These companies were also highly affected by the crisis situation, caught in a vortex of changing orders, closed offices and employees on forced time-off or working from home. The municipality has accelerated projects such as the installation of solar power systems in public buildings and slowed down other activities such as maintenance works in urban spaces, which were now closed to the public or had exceptionally low traffic.
The installation of solar power systems in public buildings was carried out as part of the city's zero energy program, to achieve the objectives of photovoltaic electricity production. The buildings were chosen in advance through building and roofs surveys. The installation company was selected through a tender process. The closure of the buildings in the lockdown period allowed the project to be significantly accelerated.
Installation of solar power systems on the roofs of Sapir Center and the Municipal Concert Hall, during the emergency crisis
Technology at the service of residents and businesses
The municipality of Kfar Saba has provided communication platforms and digital arenas to local residents and businesses. The municipality has quickly established a unique dedicated Covid-19 crisis website for the residents and a portal for local businesses.
The Covid-19 crisis website
Communication, education and society
In emergency situations, major attention is needed to the channels of communication between the municipality and the residents, with an emphasis on populations such as people that live alone, the elderly, and the families of medical practitioners that are now under much strain. The municipality of Kfar Saba has opened a hot line for education, welfare and business issues. At the "Gallery 29" Youth Music Center, a live broadcasts studio was set up. It broadcasted on the city’s Facebook page. The municipality has also delivered from this studio instruction videos to residents in different languages – Amharic and Spanish.
“Kfar Saba Live” - daily broadcast program
In a remarkably short time, many municipal initiatives and programs were planned for residents, with the valuable participation of many volunteers - city residents themselves. Telephone calls were made to 21,000 elder residents. In collaboration with the Kfar Saba Economic Company, a logistics center has been established to distribute food and medications to elderly citizens and to families in need for assistance. Hundreds of hot meals and food baskets were distributed every day. The municipality has planned and carried out many community activities. Booklets and video programs were created for the entertainment of residents as they were required to stay at home. This was done also to lower the levels of anxiety caused by the crisis. Day-care facilities were opened free of charge to children of medical practitioners. Another service was established for the delivery of books from the Municipal library.
This intensive effort required to maintain dialog and to listen to public needs and feedback with great care and attention. The result: the production of programs and activities such as "The grandparents guide to Zoom calls", Mindfulness session with Irena Goldman, Ben-Gurion school counselor, How to deal with the Corona crisis and a video created by Anat Buchoitz of the Kfar Saba Psychological Service. The municipality has initiated balcony events, music truck performances in the streets, and even a Kfar Saba Corona race from home with ZOOM groups.
This planning, production and execution of a large number of community events in a very short time, under the crisis conditions, called for much creativity, collaboration, and a special effort of many municipal departments and employees.
Care message to residents – how to access help and emergency services
The Kfar Saba Corona race from home
Businesses in the city
To help businesses located in the city, in a lockdown situation, with the closing of shopping centers and other restrictions, the municipality opened a hotline for businesses and a Business portal at the municipality's website. A digital urban platform that provides online presence for local business owners and encourages the public to purchase local services.
This digital platform was developed in conjunction with the Municipal IT department, the Business Licensing Department and a A S Bina software company, in compliance with the governmental regulations for business establishments. A such, this portal allowed local businesses to declare their compliance with the “Purple Badge” guidelines, issued by the Government. Special links were provided to join the businesses index and for the “Purple Badge” compliance statement.
Maintaining urban resilience during times of crisis requires the capacity for quick, creative and flexible response. This requires not only technological, operational and security capability and attention, but also social, psychological, educational and environmental.
For an organization that is accustomed to act according to routine processes, procedures and habits that have been practiced for years, this is a major challenge that requires quick adaptation. Therefore, it is highly important to prepare in advance, nurture the capacity and practice time and again before the emergency situation strikes. It is highly important also to lead and manage with much agility even on routine days. An approach that emphasizes system-wide collaboration between departments, transparent communication, innovation and sustainability. Such approach gives the city a major boost and many benefits during emergencies.
Kfar Saba passed the Covid-19 test successfully and achieved the goals that were set. The city is among the top cities in Israel in which the residents followed the emergency time directives and dealt well with the stressful experience. No unusual events were reported, and the rate of infection was particularly low.