Colour-coded Labels Improve UNICEF’s Supply Response

UNICEF has supplied tents, tarpaulins, hygiene kits, medical kits, plastic buckets, school-in-a-box, health kits, and Early Childhood Development kits to affected populations in the 14 districts most affected by the two Nepal Earthquakes which occurred on 25 April and 12 May 2016. UNICEF has distributed over 500 metric tons of supplies with more on the way.

Life-saving emergency kits often come in multiple cardboard boxes that look almost exactly alike. Labelling is the only means of telling them apart, and matching the parts included in the kits together. In emergency settings, receiving kits in temporary locations and putting them on trucks and barges for onward distribution is a manual process. Additionally, not all personnel who handle incoming supplies are experienced in kit handling during emergencies. Some may not understand English, and some may not be able to read at all.

Feedback received from UNICEF’s country offices highlighted a need for kit labeling improvements, including an improved label design to optimize the kit handling procedure. UNICEF Supply Division Innovation Unit, Emergency Coordination Unit and the Warehouse Unit collaborated with students from the Danish Technical University to design a new label system using colours and symbols to make it easier to recognize what different boxes contain, and which items belong together as part of the same kit.

These emergency kit labels are now used globally. Alongside deploying these new colour-coded labels, we’ve also conducted surveys to assess whether the added colour and symbols to the labels have improved the identification, organization, and further distribution of kits in emergency situations. The survey results revealed overwhelming positive results with 88% of respondents finding the symbols useful for kit sorting purposes and 82% finding the colours helped when sorting kits. Despite the positive results, there were still issues to address such as the dual colouring of some labels and the need for other languages like Arabic and French. Thus, English, Arabic and French kit label guides were created to support colleagues and implementing partners in understanding the kit labels.

For more information on the project’s history and leanings, please visit this project on the UNICEF Innovation website.

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