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Τρίτη, 1 Οκτωβρίου 2013

Half a Day in a Refugee Camp – an Exercise Report


The following is a short report of a disaster exercise we attended. It was prepared for the collegues of the on-line Disaster Seminar we are taking and is reproduced here as-is.

I heard about it a week before it happened, an earthquake response exercise. It was to be staged in a city I have family and friends at and I was quick to setup a weekend of meets and greets on the side.

The exercise was staged by Nine volunteer rescue and emergency teams. Volunteer fire, specialized rescue teams, civil protection teams of Army reservist organizations, the lot!
Some help was offered by the local municipality administration and some material were on loan from the Greek military: Wheeled Gen sets, water tanks and white canvas tents from the disasters stock. after all it is they that tey will be offering adi in real life.
The official Greek state was missing as to be expected, cos it is still fast asleep when it comes to Civil Protection. There is no emergency alert system in my country, no real disaster training or seminars etc. The tents alone were kept in store as is, and the last time they were used was back in the 1978 Northern Greece earthquake!

So the exercise lasted 2 and a half days, Friday to Sunday noon, and among the scenarios were the setting up and running a refugee camp.
This was a marvelous idea and something I was eager to participate too cos I really wanted to see how the crowd responds in a disaster situation and in camp.

But there was a huge disappointment. I wanted to roam the camp and pick minds and see what people believe about crises and disaster preparedness.
But too little people turned up for role playing. Not more than 50, and these were mainly families that registered in the camp, passed sometime in it and left.

My Experience

Since I travelled 60 miles to the camp, I left some leeway and I was early. I roamed the general staging area and renewed some contacts with a volunteer team I have friends in.


I got to say that the teams were kept busy. Just before the scheduled camp “opening” there was a “fire incident” in the adjacent vegetation. This ended with the intervention of some fire trucks owned by two of the participating teams. At the same time another team was off-site to perform a “victim extraction” from a collapsed building. Then we had a “call for medical assistance” in the camp, then another “fire incident” (some refuges brought a camping stove with them and put a tent on fire) and a “camp evacuation”. Latter on a girl fell into “panic”, and right about the end there was a real medical emergency.
By 18:00 this part of the exercise ended with a short lecture on Panic management,  that lasted a while as the rescuers had some interesting questions and “whatifs”

Life in the Camp

Prepare to be bored, cold or hot, and bored. Did I say Bored?
I registered and got to my tent, faithful in my role playing. But once bored staying in a hot tent in 28 Celcious I roamed a bit and then I registered as a volunteer/helping hand.



I was ushered in a different area and waited to be called if need be. But since “victim” participation was so thin, the camp manager got the few “volunteers” and with the guidance of a fire squad had us setup a tent. Just a small lesson for us.
I will say, bring your own works gloves and other PPE if you don’t plan to stay helpless. And bring with you ice or boiled water depending on the season.
Always keep some water bottles 2/3 filled and frozen in the fridge and take them with you in a cooler bag. Then use them to chill your drinking water by passing it through the frozen bottles. It will make a huge difference in the first day and also help you make good cold instant coffee for some more comfort.

Observations

Movement in the camp was “free” but quite guided in a gentle manner. When I was roaming I was asked twice if I needed any help with my heading and if I had my registration ID/pass. For whatever reasons it is done, I feel people are expected to stay in their tents.
People were shorted in 4 categories and each registered in a different but adjacent place. Families, single male, single female, and people with special conditions, needs etc.
These would be hosted in different areas of the camp.
What I noticed was that there was a consuming procedure to change from single to family assuming your loved ones arrived later than you. Also it was a hassle to change from victim to volunteer status.
I also noticed that in real life an usher with a loud-speaker at the gate should be available. People were amiss where to go.
And I could use a small leaflet with camp life routine and information for the refugees.
Regarding volunteers -with the exception of doctors- we were not asked from specific skills, and this was according to the exercise scenario. Maybe they wanted to stick with the pre-determined procedures?
Some further details were that the camp was relaxed with pets some people brought with them. (I dunno know what it would be in real life).
Thanks to the cheap Chinese radios that have flooded the market almost everyone had a handheld radio, a Comm center was set up, and also a comms van by one of the teams that is big on rescue operations was employed. Also a messenger was used in one instance.
A novelty for me was an aerial camera on a quad-rotor. It was used on all “incidents” in the camp.
Incident security was good, there was assigned personnel in the camp and all the rest of the premises. In fact some teams checked the camp for people left behind in the evacuation event.

And here my story ends. I wish there were more to report but I did not experience more.
But it WAS a good experience and –aside the disappointing participation of “refugees”- I got favorable impressions for the participating teams.
They setup a good thing out of their own personal time and pocket!

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