Portsmouth hosts UK’s largest international disaster response exercise

SIMEX-3The world is arguably better prepared today than ever to face major disasters, including earthquakes, major oil leaks and terrorist attacks.

Those on the frontline of disasters, including international emergency response, took part in the UK’s largest international disaster simulation exercise, run by experts at the University of Portsmouth.

This year’s SimEx exercise took place across multiple sites for three days and involved about 2,000 people from more than 50 organisations.Those taking part reads like a ‘who’s who’ of emergency response, including:

SIMEX-1

  • the United Nations
  • the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • the UK Department for International Development (DfID)
  • UK International Search And Rescue (ISAR)
  • the Coastguard
  • the RNLI
  • the Red Cross
  • the UK National Disaster Victim Identification Unit
  • ServeOn
  • Tearfund
  • MapAction, a disaster mapping NGO.

The event is managed by Naomi Morris, who teaches on the University’s MSc Crisis and Disaster Management course in between trips abroad using her expertise in emergency response to help respond to natural and manmade disasters.

SIMEX-2Naomi is secretariat to the Simulations and Training Network of the United Nations, works as a paramedic and also volunteers for MapAction, which deploys to disaster zones to gather crucial mapping data to help ensure aid and emergency supplies are delivered to the right place.

The exercises started five years ago, as a training day for students on the University’s Crisis and Disaster Management masters course, run by Dr Richard Teeuw, principal lecturer and course manager.

SIMEX-4Dr Teeuw said: “SimEx has since grown, in partnership with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, to a major multi-agency exercise training and practicing emergency responses.”

Disaster management students from the University take on roles within a United Nations Disaster assessment and coordination team.

Students and staff from other departments also take part, including nursing, paramedic and drama students playing the roles of disaster ‘victims’ and ‘refugees’.

The first day began with an earthquake devastating an impoverished country, causing fatalities and destruction, with many refugees fleeing by land and sea.

There were also explosions and leaks at the country’s oil refinery.

The response on sea focused on coastal surveys of refugee boats and the extent of pollution from the damaged oil refinery. On land, all the attention was on refugee reception, shelter, health and well-being.

The second day featured urban search and rescue in the earthquake-damaged buildings, the identification, shelter, health and well-being of survivors and the identification of victims of the disaster.

The last day included assessments of a refugee camp and humanitarian emergency management activities. It ended yesterday with a debriefing to help improve the UK’s response to future international disasters.

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