Imagine there’s been a terrible flood in a developing country which is still recovering from a major conflict. Hundreds are dead: many thousands have been left homeless.
The government initially failed to ask for overseas help. But now a huge international response has been mobilised, and you’re one of hundreds of humanitarians arriving in the capital, ready to set to work.
You quickly realise that local people are desperate – not just for food, shelter and clean water, but for information.
They want to know:
– What help can they expect and when?
– What’s the best way to protect themselves and their families from disease?
– And, for many, the most pressing question of all is, “Are my missing relatives safe?”
How can you help them? And how can modern technology help you to help them?
That was the challenge faced by more than 40 people brought together by the CDAC (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network for a simulation exercise in Milton Keynes this week.
Working with a team of consultants from Safer Edge, the CDAC secretariat developed the simulation to help build the capacity of its member agencies – humanitarian NGOs, media development organisations, and international organisations such as the UN – to respond to an emergency in a a co-ordinated and collaborative way, particularly in their communication with disaster-affected communities.
For 30 hours, World Vision’s conference facilities were transplanted to the fictional country of South Seedac, and delegates grappled with a series of challenges as the situation developed.
They found that their #1 difficulty was co-ordinating their efforts. In the unexpected absence of UN-OCHA, where could leadership come from? Management of information was revealed as a huge overhead: when one organisation volunteered to handle it, their ability to do their own work was severely compromised.
There was excitement and enthusiasm for some of the technical tools available – free. Delegates learned to use the Ushahidi data-mapping system, Frontline SMS and EPISurveryor, as well as exploring data sources such as Twitter.
One of the useful innovations in this simulation was the use of a dedicated team of trained observers, tracking the participants throughout the process, feeding into the simulation as it progressed and ensuring that both the secretariat and the participants received clear, specific feedback. The observers, too, felt they learned a lot from the event.