British Red Cross turns to digital mapping to help meet increased demand for support due to Covid-19


Sharing is Caring

18 May 2021 – The British Red Cross has created new mapping tools using Esri GIS, which are being used by the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP) and its network of over 250 organisations, to improve collaboration and outreach as it responds to the Covid-19 crisis.

Designed to help meet an increased demand for support from voluntary sector organisations and the public, interactive maps are providing a shared understanding of need, promoting multi-agency working and increasing the efficiency of the overall response.

Examples of support provided to date include carrying out Covid-19 tests at care homes across Lancashire, delivering 800kg of food to a foodbank in Leominster following a 487% increase in demand, and supplying laptops to children so they could participate in online classes from home.

The British Red Cross is a founding member of the VCSEP, which was created following the Grenfell disaster and the London and Manchester terrorist attacks in 2017. Bringing together national and local organisations from the voluntary and community sector in England, to improve support for those in need, VCSEP partners include national organisations such as the British Red Cross, St John Ambulance, Salvation Army and over 200 local organisations.

Esri's GIS has long been used by the British Red Cross but only on the desktop. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need to move GIS to the cloud, via a new Esri UK enterprise-wide licence, enabling more open sharing of geospatial data, the development of online maps and dashboards and the integration of GIS with other Red Cross business applications, such as Power BI.

Central to the VCSEP Covid-19 response strategy is an interactive web map and a simple request for support service. These new tools help the British Red Cross and the VCSEP to understand and match which national and local voluntary organisations are best suited to meet requests from voluntary sector organisations for support including testing, vaccinations, food, clothing and PPE. Organisations including charities and statutory bodies can also use the online form to request help.


An online Vulnerability Index map has also been created with the Esri technology, giving users a clear picture of which population groups are impacted most from Covid-19, due to either the virus itself, lockdown or furlough, for example. A bespoke map developed by the Red Cross, it visualises multiple data sets including clinical vulnerability, economic and financial vulnerability, social vulnerability (including physical/geographical isolation and digital exclusion) and other socio-economic data.

“By gathering intelligence on gaps and emerging needs, in relation to where the VCSEP partners are, Esri mapping now helps co-ordinate an efficient response and avoids any duplication of effort. Insights can be easily shared with members to help develop the best allocation of resources, with a focus on people who are the most vulnerable. Previously, local knowledge and relationships were heavily relied upon but now we have the spatial data to spot geographic trends and make more informed decisions to supplement vital, local knowledge,” said Alexei Schwab, Senior Information Manager, VCSEP.

Future plans for GIS at the VCSEP include the pooling and sharing of more data, currently siloed within member organisations. “This is just the beginning – there is a huge appetite within the VCSEP to find new ways of visualising and working with data to support a joined-up emergency response. We are a small organisation with a large network and better use of data can help drive further efficiencies,” concluded Schwab.

“The British Red Cross is proud of its role providing GIS and Information Management expertise globally to help those in crisis. It is one of the most requested skills following emergencies and it’s fantastic to see it explicitly highlighted within the new Digital Strategy for the International Federation of the Red Cross. The British Red Cross strategy clearly focuses on partnerships, and open data and digital systems are a key component of this, while the VCSEP builds on the British Red Cross’s experience supporting initiatives such as Missing Maps and Humanitarian Data Exchange,” explained Adam Rowlands, Director of Digital, British Red Cross.

“Location intelligence lies at the heart of any co-ordinated emergency response, fostering improved collaboration and communication,” said Stuart Bonthrone, Managing Director, Esri UK. “What the British Red Cross has managed to achieve in such a short timeframe is impressive, allowing it to become more connected as an organisation, using cloud-based GIS and web maps to their full potential.”


Both online maps can be viewed here:

VCSEP Covid-19 Response Map: 

 British Red Cross Covid-19 Vulnerability Index Map: 

About the British Red Cross 

For over 150 years, the British Red Cross has helped people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies. The British Red Cross enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities; and when the crisis is over, help them recover and move on with their lives.   


About the VCSEP

The Emergencies Partnership provides space and opportunity for over 250 local and national voluntary and community organisations to come together and build connections that will ensure support reaches those in need more effectively in an emergency. 


 About Esri UK

Esri is the global market leader in geographic information system (GIS) software, location intelligence and mapping. Founded in 1969, Esri software is deployed in more than 350,000 organisations including 90 of the Fortune 100 companies. Esri UK offers GIS solutions to a wide range of markets in both the public and private sector. Customers include Public Health Scotland, the Environment Agency, Defra and the National Trust.


Geospatial Newsletters

Keep up to date with the latest geospatial trends!

Sign up

Search DM

Get Directions Magazine delivered to you
Please enter a valid email address
Please let us know that you're not a robot by using reCAPTCHA.
Sorry, there was a problem submitting your sign up request. Please try again or email

Thank You! We'll email you to verify your address.

In order to complete the subscription process, simply check your inbox and click on the link in the email we have just sent you. If it is not there, please check your junk mail folder.

Thank you!

It looks like you're already subscribed.

If you still experience difficulties subscribing to our newsletters, please contact us at