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Exercise Talom Field Simulation Summary

One of the most important lessons that emerged from the Exercise Talom field simulation in November was the paramount need to address human factors. The training of NGO personnel is essential, of course, but I’m talking about the people in the villages and cities, the people who live there.

And in particular, the kids.

The kids are great, wherever you go in Southeast Asia. The little girl mugging in this picture is one of hundreds of children we saw who smile, laugh, and wave when you go by. They shout “hello!” as they ride by in schoolbus tuk-tuks; they grin from the market stalls their mothers manage; they laugh as they “help” with the rice harvest.

At the end of the field exercise, the ADRA and World Vision teams were invited to a celebration hosted by the Ban Yang Loung village kids, who sang songs and presented the “simulated donors” with balloons on which they were to draw pictures. It was magical. It was special.

In the course of the disaster simulation (flash flood), the teams set up a location called a “child friendly space” where children could find safety, support, food, activities, and supervision during the crisis. You can read more about the child friendly space (CFS) concept on the World Vision Web site. It is an outstanding and important program.

The local and regional Thai officials were impressed, and decided on the spot to begin instituting a CFS program in their districts. An excellent example of cross-fertilization through a field exercise, a win for everyone.

But the other win, just as big, was what we learned from the villagers and government officials. These people understood readiness. They have experienced major flooding as recently as 2002 and can expect more. Their local preparedness leader showed us their system and process, which included robust communications and an oft-tested loudspeaker network over a rather wide area.

When the next flood comes, they want their kids to be safe.

So I’ll sign off with this question for you: do your community and organization have a plan for responding to emergencies – flood, earthquake, pandemic? Yes? Do you know what to do when it happens? Do you train for it, conduct small scale exercises?

Take a tip from the smiling children of Ban Yang Loung, and their parents and community: the kids expect us to be ready.

In closing, I borrow a wish I received from a wonderful person who helped me in a tough situation, as I was leaving Thailand: may 2009 bring you Health, Prosperity, and Tranquility!

Gregg Swanson
Founder and Executive Director

Twelve Reasons for Conducting Simulations
1. Preparedness - only by practice and training can teams and individuals gain and practice the skills needed in a very demanding environment.
2. Does your plan work? Only by testing your plan will you know.
3. Identify gaps, weaknesses, and needs - you won't find them out without a field exercise or an actual response, and it is easier to determine and record these findings in a field exercise.
4. Teambuilding - there is no better way.
5. Motivation - just ask the ADRA Asia team members. As one told me: "If there is a disaster, that is where we want to be – that is our job."
6. Evaluate your personnel - managers need to know who is good at this, and who is a top performer.
7. Try out new processes and procedures - an exercise is a great laboratory for testing new concepts.
8. Try out new enabling capabilities, including ICT equipment. Providers of services and equipment are often delighted to loan their newest products for field testing by "real relief workers."
9. Acquaint your senior management (and other internal management) with your plan, your capabilities, your people. They may not know how challenging it is.
10. Show external organizations, including government and U.N. agencies, what you can do.
11. Show your donors what you can do. They want to know, and they will probably be impressed. Invite key donors as observers.
12. Publicity of your simulation is healthy and should be welcomed by all employees, volunteers, donors, and other supporters. The press and the public are very interested – and this is not only at home. The press and public in countries like Indonesia are very aware of the dangers of natural disasters, and they have a stake in relief capabilities.

Our mission – ICT assistance. HumaniNet is a nonprofit ICT information service for humanitarian and mission field teams. With its partners, HumaniNet investigates and tests available, affordable solutions that provide a critical lifeline for teams in remote areas. These solutions provide reliable field communications, enable the coordination of planning and operations, and facilitate the sharing of useful information.

HumaniNet is unique in identifying current, practical ICT opportunities and developments which all humanitarian and mission teams can quickly translate into greater operational effectiveness and cost savings. HumaniNet encourages NGO field users to provide feedback on “what works and what does not.” This facilitates the sharing of “lessons learned” and other valuable information with NGO managers and field teams.

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