Students put to the test in disaster simulation

Earthquake victims are ferried from Hayling Island.

Earthquake victims are ferried from Hayling Island.

An earthquake, refugees, terrorists and kidnappers formed the dramatic backdrop to a major disaster simulation exercise this week involving students and staff from across the University of Portsmouth.

The three-day SimEx2016 event saw more than 400 people from the University and 30 partner organisations responding to a realistic ‘live’ disaster in and around Portsmouth.

The exercise was the final training session for students on the  Crisis and Disaster Management MSc course.

A rescue operation at Fort Widley.

A rescue operation at Fort Widley.

Led by the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, it involved staff and students from various faculties, including Media and Performing Arts undergraduates playing the part of injured civilians and refugees.

The largest annual event of its kind in the UK, it was run in partnership with government organisations, including Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, NHS Hazardous Area Response Teams, the national Disaster Victim Identification team,  the Foreign and Commonwealth Office crisis response team and the Army (12 Regiment Royal Artillery and 77 Brigade).

Putting emergency response to the test.

Putting emergency response to the test.

Many organisations from the volunteer sector also participated, including  the Serve On  emergency response team, Rescue Global and SARAID (Search And Rescue Assistance In Disasters),  the Radio Amateurs Emergency Network (RAYNET) and the Skywatch civil air patrol, the British Red Cross and Wessex 4×4 response group, with disaster mapping carried out by MapAction.

The exercise saw the organisations responding to an earthquake in a politically unstable region with a collapsing infrastructure and humanitarian problems. Participants had to assess damage, employ search and rescue techniques, help casualties and deal with other affected civilians.

Dramatic scene on the beach.

Dramatic scene on the beach.

Crisis and Disaster Management students took on the role of a United Nations disaster assessment and coordination team.

SimEx2016 director Naomi Morris, a humanitarian consultant and Portsmouth graduate who has led international response teams in real-life crisis scenarios, said: “The exercise creates a platform for international, national and volunteer organisations to practise and improve vital coordination on standard operating procedures for emergency response, at the same time as giving the University an excellent opportunity to expose students from various departments to their potential future career choices.”

The exercise began with Serve On volunteers  ferrying ‘refugees’ from earthquake-hit Hayling Island to the operational headquarters based at the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences, where the victims were assessed by the ‘United Nations’ team. The operation then moved to Fort Widley, on Portsdown Hill, which Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service have turned into an urban search and rescue training centre.

Staff from the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies observed decision-making during the crisis response activities.

Dr Richard Teeuw, Crisis and Disaster Management course leader, said: “The Portsmouth SimEx provides our students with experience of the pressures and complexity of a major disaster response event in an international setting.

“Other emergency response organisations also get opportunities via the SimEx to work together in crisis situations and see how well their procedures work.”

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