26 January 2015
Imagine… Early morning, 16th February 2015 most people in Portmore, just across the harbour from Kingston, Jamaica are still asleep in their beds. Those who are awake notice an eerie silence for a few moments, before all hell breaks loose. As the magnitude 7 earthquake strikes just a few miles offshore, people are thrown awake amidst raining plaster and debris. The lucky ones make it outside in time, while the others are trapped in collapsed apartments and homes. The entire country is in chaos…
This is the starting point for the largest computer simulation exercise ever attempted in the Caribbean, carefully planned and coordinated over the last six months in order to provide the most realistic training environment possible for decision makers. The key tool being used is C4i Consultants’ award-winning EDMSIM (Emergency and Disaster Management Simulation) computer software. All of Jamaica’s population, key facilities, first responders and disaster relief agencies are accurately modelled so that the disaster response is completely realistic.
The earthquake lasts for nearly a minute, damaging and destroying many of the buildings in Portmore and Kingston, leaving only the most recently built, earthquake-resistant buildings undamaged. Fire and police rush to rescue those trapped while ambulances begin to weave their way through debris-filled streets taking the most severely injured to nearby hospitals.
Except that none of this is really happening. It is all taking place within a computer simulation, operated by the heads of the Jamaican first responder organizations like the Jamaican Constabulary, Fire Department, Ministry of Health and Jamaican Defence Force. As they receive orders from their Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), they give orders to their simulated organization in the computer instead of calling the real first responders by radio or telephone. They monitor the situation within EDMSIM as the response unfolds and report what is going on back to the EOC. This type of interaction between the disaster managers and decision makers is extremely realistic and leads to extraordinary gains in capacity and resiliency within the country as lessons learned are implemented.
As their first responders work the scene of the earthquake, the picture starts to become clear – there aren’t enough resources in the country to rescue and treat the injured and care for the survivors. More help is needed. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) consults with the Prime Minister and key leaders and the decision is made to ask for immediate assistance. The Canadian High Commissioner offers help in the form of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), headquartered in Kingston, Ontario. There is a catch, though. The DART team needs to see the situation on ground in order to decide what Jamaica needs from its cache of supplies and equipment stored at the airfield in Trenton, Ontario. As the DART team begins frenetic preparations, a reconnaissance party of four Canadian Armed Forces officers boards a CF-144 Challenger jet and begins the five hour flight to Kingston.
Any disaster is an incredible event on a number of fronts. Firstly, the event forces organizations and people to work together who normally wouldn’t interact on a daily basis. The friction, chaos and delays in getting organized mean that the disaster response is not effective and coordinated until hours or sometimes days later. Meanwhile people who are desperate for urgent care perish unnecessarily. Secondly, how do you practice disaster management without a disaster? Somehow emergency personnel have to learn who their counterparts are in other agencies, how to manage information and make decisions during a crisis, and how to coordinate resources in the best way possible to ensure an effective response. This is like asking an organization to win the Superbowl without ever practicing or playing a game. This is why C4i Consultants invented EDMSIM and why it is used by the US National Guard, the US Army and NATO to prepare their leaders and decision makers for the worst events imaginable. EDMSIM lets leaders easily and cost effectively prepare and practice for a disaster
“The computer simulation exercise that we are conducting in Jamaica is another event in our One Million Lives initiative”, noted Gordon Harrison, exercise chief for C4i Consultants. “The goal is to help prepare leaders and decision makers so that the next disaster response is smooth and flawless. We believe that by conducting these exercises around the world and improving the crisis response, we can save one million people who would otherwise die in the confusion following a disaster.”
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