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“Information alone saves lives, but there are gaps in the way we gather and share this valuable resource.” World Disaster Report, IFRC, 2005. Image courtesy of Crisis Ready.

Imagine a Place Where Every Disaster Scenario Really Happens… Krizo

Life is hard on Krizo. The small Pacific island has seen it all: tsunamis, cyclones, mudslides, pandemics, mining disasters, rebel uprisings and volcanic eruptions. If it’s a shattering disaster, then it’s happened on Krizo. Krizo is God’s little punching bag, but thankfully, it doesn’t actually exist. Krizo is a virtual simulation environment with Crisis Ready the puppet masters.

We’ve all seen it. You’re running an exercise with significant resource commitment and someone tries to wish away the most challenging parts. “Well I’d just hire sixteen helicopters and an aircraft carrier!” The team at Crisis Ready have seen this too often and have even given the phenomenon a name, ‘Higginsing’ in honour of an exercise participant with a great imagination, who thought he knew best and in doing so threw away many opportunities to learn. Higginsing impacts on everyone in the exercise and on how prepared they are to face the actual challenges of the real world.

In order to address and defeat this a number of ‘sandpit’ training environments were developed where teams can be tested in a completely unfamiliar environment. The term sandpit or sandbox is often used in software development to describe a testing environment for work-in-progress code. These sandpits are meant to be played in to test people and processes and to build their understanding and ability.

The Sandpits they have built include a virtual engineering company, Blackhope Engineering Group, whose crisis management plan is always in desperate need of review but the most elaborate sandpit is without doubt ‘Krizo’, a simulated country.

To make Krizo as realistic as possible, they have developed not just a geographic setting with vulnerabilities built in, but more importantly, a whole cultural backdrop.

Krizo has a national anthem (“We are Krizo rising from the sea…”); a Facebook page, where you will find updates on the recent armed incursion by paramilitary forces from the neighbouring island of Grayza; a native language (“al-la-glar-ga gar-gala.” – ‘We are different, yet the same.”); indigenous flora (Krizo’s pygmy pineapples are famous for their sweetness and beautiful reddish-gold flowers); and a religion called Korism, which encourages heavy alcohol consumption at ceremonies.

They have also developed a quasi-United Nations type agency, the International Disaster and Emergency Assistance League (IDEAL) which can provide an umbrella organisation for agencies to deploy under. IDEAL has SOPs which have been informally recognised by UNISDR as highly realistic and effective and possibly best-practice.

All this cultural detail and complexity is necessary for a good simulations to work; the point is to teach participants to be sensitive and attentive to victims of disaster, especially if the client organisation created the situation.

Every individual in every community has their own identity and expectations. We must learn to listen to know how to help them. Image courtesy of Crisis Ready.

Every individual in every community has their own identity and expectations. We must learn to listen to know how to help them. Image courtesy of Crisis Ready.

One example of how Krizo presents cultural challenges is that gift giving in Krizo is not seen as polite. If you come to my house for dinner and bring a bottle of wine, you are saying my wine is not good enough! So this simple tourist tip might be useful to not upset local sensitivities but now imagine you are on the ground post a disaster and have to distribute food and shelter. It will take carefully considered communications strategies to not insult an already traumatised community

Communicators, policy-makers and emergency relief workers use the island to train in handling the worst events known to humanity.

Krizo’s Facebook page recently alerted its followers to a military coup, as part of a training session held in preparation for the G20. The fake crisis triggered protests in Australia, where campaigners called for international intervention. The protests then impacted on the client’s operations and by coming from Krizo, nobody was able to say “oh, I know the CEO there. I’ll give her a call and sort this out”.

We have worked with state government agencies and organisations in almost every sector, from mining to childcare. They are assisted by professional writers and actors to make all scenarios as realistic as possible. You get to experience what it’s really like to deal with a mother who’s just lost her child.

As this goes to print, Krizo is in the grip of an outbreak of Malsana (meaning “sick” in Esperanto), a realistic Ebola-like disease invented with the assistance of a doctor and microbiologist for a client’s simulation.

Crisis Ready currently holds training days on client sites or in hired spaces, but there are plans for a full simulation centre, complete with tin sheds and non-stop rain. They are also in talks with the Queensland University of Technology about running simulations to better prepare journalism graduates for the horrors they may face throughout their careers.

The sandpits have been built as scenario environments where complexities and elements can be added or removed depending on the exercise’s specific requirements. As such, they can be used for anything from university courses through to training for teams such as INSARAG to enhance their capability to respond to an unfamiliar place and culture. While all exercises build technical capabilities, how many exercise the cultural interchanges that are so vital to building trust and restoring humanity? Usually, these experiences are only built by experience on operations.

Injecting cultural complexity and sensitivity is vital in conducting quality exercises. When teams deploy to Fukushima, Nepal, Vanuatu, Lockyer Valley or Christchurch, recognition of the differing cultures is as vital as understanding any other element of the threat environment.

Risk Assessment must include the wider environmental factors that can and will impact on response and recovery operations. Recognising the factors that limit response actions or can help as force multipliers will make operations more effective and aid recovery.

Including Public Information as a key element of an exercise is also vital to realism. Matheson and Ryan (2009) identified that around 20% of all findings from Reviews after major incidents, are focussed on public communication aspects. If sufficient commitment is not made to exercising these aspects realistically, then the exercise is neglecting 20% of the lessons that can be learnt and implemented.

A good starting place in considering the broader public communication factors is the US Military’s public information assessment tool which is available online. This tool is used by the public information team to rapidly build a clear picture of the public information environment to enable effective and valuable planning. It addresses such factors as the local media environment, the foreign media that have arrived and how independent they are…do they have mobility, the ability to file and broadcast or will they be reliant on the public information team for assistance. It also looks at the public and media hostility and any areas of growing public outrage that may need to be addressed.

Too often our public information team is really a public relations team, promoting our great work but neglecting the local audience. Public information needs to be about getting messages and information to those affected as well. But the work of public information is actually done by all responders. All responders need to be equipped to communicate, which starts with listening. Listening to an audience or individual builds an understanding of their concerns, what information they need to hear and how it will make sense to them.

Summary

You never know where the next disaster will take you and what the local challenges will be. Krizo is a place where everyone has to learn to listen hard to be able to speak to an audience that will listen, understand and react. It is a place where responders can build their ability to problem solve and strategies to help communities in a way that is targeted, efficient and comprehensive.

For more information, go to www.crisisready.com.au

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<p>Peter Rekers is Manager of Crisis Ready.</p>

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