Playing With Reality: Emergency Capacity Building Project simulations case study

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  Page 1  of 12     Playing with Reality  : The ECB experience using emergency simulations to improve humanitarian response By David Hockaday and Sarah Lumsdon March 2012  Page 2  of 12   Introduction The final evaluation of ECB Phase 1 acknowledged the importance of emergency simulations as a practical preparedness tool that provides a safe space for humanitarian agencies to build staff capacity 1  to respond to emergency situations 2 . The ECB Simulations Project was launched in 2007 when ECB agencies developed a Simulation Administrators ‘  Guide that included both a Multi-Agency and a Single Agency Simulation tool. The development of this Guide was a key milestone in the ECB Project‘s efforts to build national staff emergency response capacity. This case study focuses on the learning from implementing the ECB Project Multi-Agency simulations at the national level between April 2010 and March 2012, using the ECB Simulations Administrators ‘  Guide. Context With the likelihood of increasing frequency and intensity of disasters 3 , the ECB Project agencies focus their capacity building initiatives at the national level in order to prepare for this trend. The ECB Simulations Project - a series of practical tools and guidelines to support building national staff skills in emergency response - is a key priority for the ECB Project community. There are many obvious benefits to collaboration during a disaster response such as better coordination, improved geographical coverage, consistency in response and reduction in duplication. Collaboration can often lead to improved efficiencies too, as resources and staff are shared and this can often lead to other positive outcomes such as joint evaluations and shared learning. Improved collaboration in emergencies can often come about through building relationships in between responses, a point highlighted in the ECB Phase 1 final evaluation. The importance of pre-positioning relationships is a key component for the ECB Project, and it is for this reason that multi-agency simulations are favoured. ‗Learning by doing‘ is one of the most effective methodologies for training and capacity building 4 . Simulation-based training methods have been used in the private and public sector for years. Research suggests learners undergoing simulation-based training achieve deeper understanding, higher levels of confidence, retain knowledge longer, show a greater interest in the subject matter and are better able to transfer their learning to their job than 1  In this document, ‗ capacity ‘  is defined as the skills, ability and competencies of an individual to carry out a particular role 2  See Emergency Capacity Building Project Final Evaluation Report; Social Impact Inc; July 2007; p31 3 United Nations Environment Programme (UNCEP); Session Concept Paper; World Conference on Disaster Reduction; January 2005; Page 1 4  ALNAP Review of Humanitarian Action, 2003, Field Level Learning, Learning and Evaluation in Humanitarian Action     “… Although in my experience it is impossible to get simulations to perfectly match up to the reality, they do help identify what you need to seriously invest in before the disaster hits. They help channel and focus thinking and resources to where they are really needed….”    Gareth Price-Jones Oxfam Great Britain GB Countr Director Banladesh  Page 3  of 12   those exposed to more conventional training methods 5 . Simulations provide a safe learning environment where participants can try out new behaviours, test their knowledge and develop the right behavioural competencies to improve the speed, quality and effectiveness of future responses to emergencies. Multi-agency simulations also provide a safe space to develop relationships and collaboration among agencies.  As part of the ECB Project, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides support for an annual emergency simulation to be held in each of the ECB consortium countries over the five-year period of the project. Further support has been provided by the British Government, through the Department for International Development (DFID) as part of the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (CBHA) National Staff Development Programme. The European Commission, through the Directorate General for Humanitarian  Aid and Civil Protection (DG-ECHO), has also supported the ECB Simulations Project. With this support, and by the end of the project in August 2013, the ECB Project will have run over 15 multi-agency simulations in ECB consortium countries, providing national responders with an excellent opportunity to practice in advance of an actual disaster striking. Between April 2010 and March 2012, nine simulations have been successfully conducted in all five ECB consortia including three in Bangladesh, one in Bolivia, Indonesia and Niger and three in the Horn of Africa (two in Kenya and one in Uganda), involving a total of more than 200 participants from over 50 agencies. The simulations were all multi-agency, facilitated by staff experienced in running such events from global, regional and national levels. Where possible, national staff work alongside international facilitators in order to build a cadre of national staff experienced in facilitating simulations. A strong relationship with the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (UN-IASC) Sub Working Group on Preparedness also enabled the ECB Project to utilise a roster of experienced and trained simulation facilitators. How does a Multi-Agency Simulation work?  A simulation replicates an emergency situation in a condensed timeframe and in a controlled environment. The emergency scenario is played out using a series of ‗injects‘ (e -mails, situation reports, disaster data, role players) which replicate key aspects of an emergency situation. Teams must respond to these ‗ injects ‘  as they would in a real life situation. The debrief following the simulation is the most important part of any simulation event. This is where teams/staff can reflect on what worked well and what areas need to be improved. 5  Hoberman and Mailick; Experiential Management Development; From Learning to Practice; 1992. For an interesting comparison of the benefits of simulations over other types of business learning models refer to Kenworthy and Wong; Developing Managerial Effectiveness; Developments in Business Simulations and Experiential Learning; Vol. 32, 2005   “….The joint participation of agencies and partners signified a very positive experience and facilitated collaboration and open spaces, which without a doubt will continue after the simulation…” ECB Bolivia Simulation Facilitation Team Aril 2010  Page 4  of 12   The debrief should be longer than the simulation exercise if staff are to learn from the exercise and make a plan for improvements. Improvements might include individual commitments from participants, such as finding out about their own agency emergency procurement procedures, or familiarisation with the Sphere standards. As a group, this might include commitments to attend regular emergency coordination meetings, investigating joint logistic procedures or developing joint agency response protocols. The ECB Simulation Administrators ‘  Guide provides a step-by-step guide to designing and implementing a simulation. The Guide provides all the necessary materials and templates that can be adapted to a particular context. Ideally participants should remain unaware of the emergency scenario, in order for the situation to be as realistic as possible and to challenge participants. The simulation facilitators ‘  role is to introduce the injects and adapt injects as required to move the disaster situation forward. Their role is to increase or decrease the challenge as required to enhance participants ‘  learning during the exercise. Injects provide contextual information such as conflict scenarios, weather patterns, and numbers and locations of affected populations; injects can also include security incidents and adverse media stories to challenge and test participants. Injects can be chosen depending on what the simulation facilitation team is trying to test e.g. a cholera outbreak can be used to test a sectoral response; a breach of a code of conduct to test participants ‘  knowledge, adherence to and understanding of international standards and codes of conduct. Injects can therefore test knowledge and behavioural competence. Participants are encouraged to play their usual role and to make the simulation as real as possible. As it is not always possible to replicate the full range of actors in a disaster, facilitators and other staff often play roles such as government officials, UN staff or community members. It can also be constructive for participants to play other roles, in order to witness a disaster from a different perspective and to gain further understanding and empathy as to how disasters and stressful situations can be from other vantage points, such as a beneficiary or donor. How much time is needed to run a simulation? Ideally a simulation event lasts two days, one day for the Simulation and one day for the debrief, learning and action planning. The debrief is the opportunity for participants to explore performance, identify and analyse issues, and develop recommendations and learning going forward. The debrief session is key to the overall learning component of the simulation exercise. Who and how many people are involved? Most of the simulations run by the ECB Project involve both international and national NGO‘s, UN agencies and in some cases  government officials. Typical attendance figures range between 30  –  40 participants. It becomes difficult to simulate reality with a group much smaller than that. What scenario to choose? The simulation convenors can suggest and advise on the preferred disaster or hazard to simulate for their context. Alternatively a training needs assessment can be carried out prior to the simulation to ascertain which scenario and what elements to test. The disaster must be something that participants can relate to in order for it to be a useful learning exercise. It is the role of the lead simulation facilitator to adapt the guide to an appropriate disaster/hazard. See Box 1 for an example of how this has been done previously.
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