Monday, July 17, 2017

Ready to Respond: Full Scale Disaster Exercise at the Red Cross

by Kylie Davidson, American Red Cross in Greater New York

Last month the American Red Cross in Greater New York conducted a full-scale exercise, a disaster simulation that allows volunteers, employees and partners to practice and evaluate existing procedures for disaster response. The exercise was developed and coordinated by our Regional Training & Exercise Team, a group led by Stephanie Hagans, Disaster Training & Exercise Manager. More than 200 Red Crossers, including volunteers, organizational staff and partner groups, from across the region participated in the exercise. Below is a Q and A with Stephanie to learn more about this day of training and simulation.

Photo credit: Erin Patrice O'Brien, American Red Cross 
What is a full-scale exercise? 

A full-scale exercise is a disaster simulation that tests various activities that we would carry out throughout a real disaster. It tests our ability to respond to a disaster in real time during which we move real resources throughout the region, and then we simulate external events occurring. It’s as realistic to a real disaster as we can possibly get without having one. The point of it is to test our current plans, policies and procedures to see if they’re working or if they’re going to work and how we can improve them for the next disaster.

What is the purpose of organizing this kind of exercise?

The purpose is actually two-fold. One, it’s to practice each of our functions [i.e. sheltering, logistics, mental health, health services], to build that muscle memory so that whenever a real event occurs, we will know how to do the things we say we’re going to do. Additionally, it’s to improve. After the exercise we create an improvement plan, or ARR/IP, the After-Action Review and Improvement Plan. Here, we look at everything that went well and we make sure we continue to do those things again in future events. Then we look at everything that didn’t maybe go as well as it could have and look at how we can improve so that when a real event occurs, we can do it even better.

How often do these exercises take place?

Our full scale exercise is annual, so we do one a year. We also hold a bunch of smaller exercises throughout the year. We have one every couple months.

What type of simulated disaster did volunteers practice responding to? Why was this type of disaster chosen?

The scenario was an improvised nuclear device, or IND. The reason we chose this is because we, as the Greater New York Region, participated in this type of exercise with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) earlier this year.

Where did this exercise take place? How many mock service delivery locations were set up?

This exercise took place in various locations throughout the Greater New York Region. We had three sites in Long Island, we had three in Metro New York North, and then we had one site here at the Regional Headquarters in New York City. The Disaster Relief Operation Headquarters was at the Rockland County Fire Training Center. We focused very heavily on sheltering for this exercise, so all of our mock service delivery sites were shelters. Everything else was simulated.

Can you talk about the role actors played?

Actors played the role of our affected residents and they were given actor cards with different profiles. It gives us the ability to test our plans for different personalities and individuals with different needs as well.

Was there anything unique about this exercise?

I think the most unique part was the scenario. It was something that, fortunately, we don’t see all the time, so it definitely had different challenges than a natural disaster might have. I think that it was good practice for us to kind of be creative and think outside the box and address the issues that come up in any disaster.

What were the biggest lessons or key takeaways of this exercise?

This year we had a really heavy focus on mentoring, so I think all of it was a learning experience for everybody. People who had not yet had an opportunity to perform specific leadership roles in the past were able to try out that role in a no-fault environment, one where there weren’t any real consequences. They were able to get advice throughout the day from a mentor and adviser that could help them. I think that was one of the strengths of this exercise that I would like to continue to do in the future.

For more photos from the exercise, click here. 

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