With COVID-19 spreading around the world, each country’s ability is being tested to manage the crisis within its own means. Technical and traditional infrastructures are under trial, as well as the countries readability to efficiently manage disasters through their management training applications sufficiently and strategically in all aspects both on an official and non-official scale.
In the Gulf region, particularly the United Arab Emirates, having observed the government management of the coronavirus crisis, the impression is that there remarkably has been no sign of organizational or administrative disruption despite the crisis. Even though the many decisions to close organizations, approving a remote teaching plan in schools, suspending flights, decreasing the numbers of employees and minimizing the populations’ movement, this has not affected the nation and regular lifestyles are still normal with little disruption.
This balance and stability under such a crisis can be attributed to many reasons, some of which are due to the years of preparations and working efforts. The UAE has invested a lot of effort and capital in preparing a highly robust, technical, traditional infrastructure, and has established central networks that have reinforced active communication and cooperation between governmental and non-governmental agencies. The UAE has been able to reap and harvest the benefits of all the efforts and has been able to tap on them and manage the crisis. The efforts can be demonstrated as follows:
Digitalization strategies and the role in addressing COVID-19 crisis
Although all its governmental ministries and agencies still work in the traditional way, having premises, employees, and attendance records, the UAE has long been interested in providing in a virtual form the same services provided by the traditional bureaucratic agencies, by fully digitalizing these agencies.
The digitalization process that included all governmental agencies was driven by many motives, most importantly in this context was providing the citizens frequently visiting these agencies with an option to finish their transactions through these online services. This minimized pressure on the infrastructures of the traditional governmental premises, and on the roads and means of transportation. People in the UAE can finish transactions just by a single click remotely, without having to go out in the streets and without the need to use public or private means of transportation. This guaranteed continuity in the smoothness of transactions and in a time of a pandemic such as the current COVID-19 crisis, citizens and residents could stay at home and it would not be different prior to the crisis as this has already been the lifestyle of the majority of the population for finalizing their personal and business transactions.
For instance, the digitalization process that facilitated effecting the #StayatHome call, has helped in the following during 2019:
1. Completion of 4,936,040 transactions of payment of traffic fines, without the need to go to the administrative premise of the Traffic Authority,
2. Renewal and issuance of 1,381,095 work permits and contracts, without the need to go to the administrative premise of the Ministry of Labor,
3. Renewal of 987,197 vehicle titles, without the need to go to the administrative premise of the Vehicle Licensing Department; and
4. Renewal of 751,762 personal IDs, without the need to go to the administrative premise of the Authority for Identity and Residency.
With the raised possibility of spreading infection through the exchange of banknotes, the UAE are also prepared with the introduction of the “e-Dirham”, a mechanism approved many years ago. This mechanism means resorting to electronic payments with money passing through bank accounts without having to exchange it by hands. All organizations, companies, and restaurants in UAE have a strong technical infrastructure to receive electronic payments and any discussion regarding stopping banknote exchange or transactions would not pose a threat, or cause a shock, or represent a big obstacle to business activity.
Health data as a first line of defense
Amidst a pandemic crisis, countries need to monitor many indicators that help in the process of “categorizing” citizens, as to which category can be easily infected, and which category can survive an infection, etc. For the government to do such categorization, it needs a lot of health data, mainly: age, immunity level, blood type, and medical history.
In case of the UAE, the health sector has been designed for over decades to ensure regular provision of health data for all of the population. Every individual in the UAE is registered within the state having a “health record” containing all health indicators and their medical history. This strategy has paid off under the current pandemic crisis, as it was simple to categorize the immunocompromised patients, diabetics, and those with diseases that are unable to fight COVID-19, without the need to mobilize the population or ask them to register their health data abruptly.
In addition, the health data was connected through a central network accessible by many other governmental authorities to make use of it either under normal conditions, such as issuance of different documents and completion of required transactions, or under an emergency like COVID-19 crisis. The land, air, and seaports have benefited from the health databases available for them to evaluate the health condition of those coming to the country.
The annual statistics of health services has helped facilitate the management of the pandemic crisis as the health sector administration is completely aware of the number of available beds in all the state hospitals, the number of ventilators, and the number of ICUs and operation rooms. According to the most recent statistics, Abu Dhabi alone has about 16,000 fully prepared beds. The availability of data facilitates the work of emergency and crisis management teams, and makes it easy to allocate patients to hospitals according to its capacities, ventilators, ICUs, and the number of doctors and their different specializations, ensuring efficient emergency calling and quick and urgent allocation according to different specializations.
Evacuations of citizens abroad
In case of a highly contagious world-wide pandemic, state authorities are equally interested in the safety of its citizens abroad, and usually venture in evacuation processes as soon as possible. However, such evacuations will face a major obstacle: the state does not know where its citizens exactly are; neither does it know their active contacts. In this case, the state will only have a few alternatives, such as, to make media announcements about the evacuations, which will require a long time waiting for citizens to respond, or to wait for all citizens to call the embassy or the concerned entity themselves, which will also require a long time and more work teams.
However, in case of the UAE, the efforts to regulate the process of evacuating citizens abroad, which started years ago, have also paid off and made it easier to execute the evacuees as fast and as seamlessly as possible. The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has relied on a digital system called “Twajudi” (meaning “my location or where I am), on which every passenger across the country registers and adds all his/her main and alternative contacts and potential locations inside the country of destination. This helps the concerned authorities, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to communicate with its citizens abroad in normal emergencies, or execute an urgent evacuation in case of an outbreak of a crisis or a catastrophe in the country of destination, such as, war, protests, or a pandemic like COVID-19.
These results can be confirmed by monitoring and watching the speed at which the evacuations of UAE citizens have been executed during the last few days, starting by temporary placements in meeting points inside the concerned country and moving them to gathering points in preparation for bringing them back home on existing or specifically assigned flights.
Online early warning system
Early warning has always been significant in prospection of crises and dealing with them in their early stages, through monitoring and constant alarming. Since 2017, the UAE has engaged its population in the Early Warning System , taking into consideration any damage or harm if they were not properly and timely warned.
An online early warning system was launched in order to effectively manage crisis and to preserve lives and properties, by ensuring an outreach to the largest possible number of individuals to warn them from a potential danger and direct them to the applicable procedures.
The strongest point is this system is authorizing certain agencies to give warnings in times of pandemics and crisis, ensuring that the public will not be confused or fall prey to rumors, which sometimes causes a state of disruption and inability of the public to arrange their daily decisions under the crisis due to the disinformation received from unofficial sources. These agencies entrusted with giving warnings are the National Emergency and Crisis and Disasters Management Authority, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, and the Police General Headquarters.
A crisis without disruption: the role of consolidated guidelines for addressing crises
Usually disruption occurs in the default state under a crisis or a disaster. Yet, in the UAE, the situation has been different under the coronavirus crisis. This is because the country has approved consolidated guidelines to efficiently deal with the crisis and run the country’s affairs.
The UAE issued the Business Continuity Readiness Guidelines for UAE Organizations (AE/SCNS/NCEMA 7002:2020) once COVID-19 turned into an international crisis.
These Guidelines helped ensure the seamlessness of all business within UAE organizations, prevent any sign of disruption, and reinforce cooperation between organizations, while allowing a margin for such organizations to develop their scenarios to deal with the crisis according to their circumstances and under the standards established by the Guidelines.
There are several scenarios developed in the Guidelines for provision of the best readiness in case the crisis expands, and for building the business continuity planning phase on clear and gradual steps to avoid organizational and administrative threats. For instance, it suggests starting by minimizing the number of employees, then moving to remote working, and ensuring flexibility of executing procedures and the readiness of the technical infrastructures of organizations before issuance the decision for remote working as well as the readiness of employees; all this in done in order to have a priority matrix laid down before taking any decision to change the work system.
Readiness of the strategic stock of foods
For decades, food security was a big issue for most Gulf States, due to desertification, lack of interest in new agriculture technologies, and high temperature that does not suit greenhouses. This issue has been always present in the discussions of UAE concerned authorities, including the Federal National Council (FNC). In 2011, FNC had remarkable discussions on this issue, with many of its members warning, on a meeting in its 5th ordinary session of the 14th legislative chapter on 08 February 2011, of threats to the country’s food security. FNC deliberated on the necessity of paying attention to modern technology and welcoming external agriculture investments and on the lack of agriculture research centers that can provide innovative solutions to develop agricultural production; and that all this requires a quick response for developing solutions to ensure the country’s readiness under any emergency.
Therefore, the UAE established much legislation that ensures reaching a high level of food security. The Emirates Food Security Council  was created to reinforce the governance system of food security, define an investment agenda in the food system inside and outside UAE, develop a supply process in times of crises, and consolidate a logistic connection. In addition, a Minister of Food Security was nominated. All this contributed to the UAE standing at 21 on Global Food Security Index . This advanced level, which ensured readiness of the strategic stock under COVID-19 crisis, was reached through application of many strategies and programs to deal with obstacles of achieving food security in the past years. Such UAE strategies and programs included: adopting a program of modern agriculture technology accelerators, in order to address the challenges facing the process of agricultural production development; launching a national trademark for sustainable agriculture; laying a framework for financing modern agriculture; a program to guarantee agriculture loans and the supply chain; development of criteria for construction of agriculture facilities; the consolidated agricultural license; creating the food security data platform; a framework for food security data; developing specifications for fish farming; building a factory for fish feed; and external agricultural investment.
Besides reassuring the population through the “Never Worry” announcement, given in a UAE cabinet meeting to reassure the country’s population regarding the availability of products and food under COVID-19 crisis; no cases of shortage or disappearance of daily foods and products from the shelves of commissaries were recorded. With all the above efforts, the UAE has reached a good level of food security, and ensured a strategic stock of imported goods sufficient for six months or more. With low demand by hotels and fairs of goods and food products because their businesses have stopped under COVID-19 crisis, such surplus has reinforced the status of the strategic stock inside the UAE as well. 
Therefore, it can be said that the UAE has invested well in time, achieving a sufficient level of readiness to address a crisis or a disaster. The UAE government is currently harvesting the benefits of such long-term investment, which has proven to date its efficacy in preserving internal stability.
 UAE’s statements, refer to https://u.ae/ar-AE/information-and-services/services-a-to-z
 The Guide to indicators of the National Agenda, the UAE’s Ministry of Health, available on: https://www.mohap.gov.ae/ar/OpenData/Pages/default.aspx#k=
 The Statistics & Research Dept. – Ministry of Health, https://smartapps.moh.gov.ae/ords/f?p=105:551:1004795189297::NO:RP:P551_YEAR:
 The Statistics & Research Dept. – National Disease Registry Section https://smartapps.moh.gov.ae/ords/f?p=105:511
 Twajudi system, UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, https://www.mofaic.gov.ae/Services/Twajudi
 The National Early Warning System, Higher National Security Council, https://www.ncema.gov.ae/ar/e-participation/blog/the-national-early-warning-system.aspx
 The Business Continuity Readiness Guidelines for UAE Organizations AE/SCNS/NCEMA 7002:2020
 To review the minutes of the 8th meeting in the 5th ordinary session of the 14th legislative chapter of the Federal National Council on 8 February 2011, https://www.mfnca.gov.ae/ar/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2017/08/61.pdf
 The Emirates Food Security Council, https://www.mfnca.gov.ae/ar/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2017/08/61.pdf
 UAE standing at 21 on Global Food Security Index, https://wam.ae/ar/details/1395302810184 [in Arabic]
 UAE: Strategic Stock of Basic Goods Exceeds 6 Months, https://www.albayan.ae/economy/local-market/2020-03-20-1.3808367 [in Arabic]