Simulation Exercises....Why Not Just Read The Manual?

Simulations of emergency scenarios can be the next-best thing to real-life experience. Copyright: WFP/Philippines

It’s a good question – with an even better answer. After 14 days, people remember 90 percent of what they have done  as opposed to only 10 percent of what they have read. A new initiative by WFP's Asia Regional Bureau combines practice with technology, to prepare staff for emergencies.

Being prepared for emergencies by practising for them in the most realistic way possible, is the mantra of WFP’s Asia Regional Bureau. It’s created “The Readiness Initiative”, which links emergency preparedness and response experience with up-to-the-minute web-based simulation technology developed for WFP.

“The Readiness Initiative” has just been out on its first field trips. First stop was WFP’s Country Office in the Philippines, where staff were alerted by email that a “typhoon” had hit Metro Manila. After jumping into action, they were fed information throughout the day (some of it incorrect, to make the exercise as realistic as possible) by a newly-developed web portal called DeMIST.

There were many challenges to overcome even for a team so recently involved in an emergency. When the Situation Report came to be written at the end of the day, everyone could contribute simultaneously and independently, because of the portal.

This access was especially appreciated by the Philippines Country Office staff, who expressed surprise and gratitude at how realistic the simulation had been. They - should know after four typhoons in just over a month last year.

Preparedness with Partners

The Pandemic Response Unit is building on the work it’s done to make WFP as prepared as possible for a global emergency by focusing on partnership and capacity building.

The Unit – part of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch – is strengthening its relationship with the US Africa Command, and will join it in a readiness and response exercise in Kenya at the end of the year.

Other UN agencies like WHO and OCHA will take part, along with the IFRC, USAid and the Swedish Rescue Service, MSB.

They will be joined by civilian and military representatives from 5 East African countries. The planning meetings for the large-scale exercise – which focuses on keeping humanitarian access open in case of not just an influenza pandemic but any global emergency – have already brought in a dozen African nations from all points of the continent.

The process shows how investment in preparedness for a specific threat can be translated into WFP being better ready to respond to a range of emergencies.

“The Readiness Initiative”

WFP Asia’s Emergency Preparedness and Response experts, Tony Craig and Kevin Howley , have been asked back to the Philippines to run an inter-agency simulation for the Humanitarian Country Team with participation also from the Philippines government.

A simulation in Jakarta for WFP Indonesia staff a few days after DeMist’s debut in Manila was similarly successful.

“The Readiness Initiative” particularly stresses WFP’s keenness to partner and the DeMIST software is available free to partners as long as WFP is involved. The ethos is that the more everyone trains realistically, and trains together, the better prepared for an emergency everyone will be.

In responding to natural disasters, practice can never make perfect. But think of these simulations as the best dress rehearsals you’re likely to get.