IT Officers Learn How To Handle Emergencies

IT officers taking part in the Pisa training exercise are briefed about the conditions of the emergency simulation to which they must respond. Copyright:WFP/Mariko Hall

There may be no substitute for experience, but an emergency simulation in Pisa recently gave WFP IT officers the next best thing. The exercise tested their ability to plan, implement, and budget in the middle of rapidly evolving crisis conditions like a natural disaster or violent conflict.

by Mariko Hall

PISA--“In the field, team-work is one of the most important elements of survival,” according to Ozdzan Hadziemin, a veteran of WFP’s crack IT unit, the FITTEST team. “Whether you like a person or not, the people who you work with are your brothers, sisters, fathers – they are your entire family. Working as a team is crucial to the success of a mission. This training really enforced that.”

The second 2010 session of the IT Emergency Management Training course took place in Pisa, Italy at the end of October. Funded by the Vodafone Foundation, United Nations Foundation and WFP partnership, the intensive two week course trains IT officers how to manage the IT response to an emergency situation.

Lessons learned

The course also included sessions on the Legal Framework of Humanitarian Operations; Elements of Leadership; first aid and preventative medicine; 4-wheel driving and GPS navigation; and safety and security conducted by the Italian Airborne Brigade “Folgore” to prepare participants for what they may face in the field.

“The security training gave us an idea of a real emergency situation,” said Nazar Hassan, IT Officer in North Darfur. “If I had been caught in a shooting before this training, I would not know how to behave or how to react. Now we have an idea of what to do and how to behave in the right way.”

“I found the sessions on law very impressive,” said Vitality Salkov from FITTEST. “I have been working in the humanitarian community since 2001 and I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know before. The training really changed the way you think.”

At the end of the first week, participants were required to submit a full project plan using the information they had learned. The project plan encompassed numerous elements, including budgeting, resource mobilisation and logistics, just as in a real emergency operation.

“Extremely stressful”

“Preparing the project plan was a very good exercise,” said Cristiano Sensoli, IT Admin and Finance Officer in Rome. “It was extremely stressful because there just didn’t seem to be enough time, but this is exactly how it is in a real emergency so it was a great simulation.”

The classroom sessions were held at Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, one of Europe’s leading universities. Presentations were given by a number of experts in their fields including Andrea de Guttry, Professor of International Law in addition to a Special Forces expert from the Folgore parachute brigade.

Twenty IT Officers from 11 humanitarian organisations participated in this course. Organisations represented were: Care USA, Ericsson Response, German Federal Agency for Technical Relief, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Save the Children, Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Secretariat, UN World Food Programme (WFP) and World Vision International.

“In a big disaster, everyone works together, regardless of what organisation they are from,” said Cristiano. “I’m sure I will come across the same people during an emergency operation one day and, because we have all had the same training, I know I will be able to rely on them.”