Over the weekend, Project HOPE hosted an intricate exercise at our headquarters that simulated a large Level Three international emergency. We worked with a consortium of experts in the field, Humanitarian U of Canada, the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health, and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Health Division. This Humanitarian and Disaster Response Simulation Training workshop brought participants from around the world who are first responders or potential first responders in their respective areas.
With emergencies, you’re never fully prepared. The onset is rapid, and each scenario is unique. Preparedness is really what will make the difference in the effectiveness of your response, how many lives you can save, and how you can support affected communities and help them recover. So the question is, are humanitarian workers prepared? Well, yes and no. Emergency response is a young person’s game. There are always new generations coming up that need to be trained. So the more you prepare and go through these routines, the more effective you will be when you hit the ground. While there’s really no time where you can say someone is fully equipped and ready to respond to a crisis, we have to aspire to continue learning by working together.
And learning to respond in disasters is more vital than ever because disasters are happening more and more. We’re seeing more frequent natural disasters, but we also have a higher number of civil conflicts today than we had in the past. There are more people displaced from their homes today than there have been since World War II. More refugees are internally displaced. The growing population means that each disaster affects more people. There is a higher level of humanitarian need today than we’ve seen in recent history, which means we need more actors on board and more capacity to respond.
We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the years. As an industry, we are very self-reflective and self-critical, always looking to improve and build upon past experiences and mistakes. There’s been a tremendous amount of effort over the last 15 years to reform the way we do international humanitarian response. A lot of that is strengthening coordination mechanisms between all the various actors, ensuring the leadership on the ground have strong decision making skills, as well as supporting the funding mechanisms to make sure the funds are available for when they are needed.
We’re proud of the work we’ve done to prepare emergency responders for the next crisis. We want to be able to extend this training to regions where there is a high prevalence of natural disasters. The first responders in an emergency are not the international staff that get deployed, they are the local communities. Local responders are the ones that are going to do more to alleviate suffering and save lives than anyone else.
My goal with this training is to prepare volunteers and show them that coordination is the key to a successful response. There are so many actors involved in any response and if you’re not coordinated, you’re going to get in each other’s way. It doesn’t matter how many resources you bring to the table, if it’s not properly coordinated, it’s not going to get the people who need it when they need it. Working with our diverse partners to plan this training shows how we can and should work together to solve problems and we’re looking forward to continuing to prepare future responders for the next crisis.
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