A UNICEF emergency simulation: an eye opening experience
© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0412/Marta Ramoneda | UNICEF Regional Communication Specialist Najwa Mekki speaks to six-year-old in a transit camp near the Tunisian-Libyan border.
When a catastrophic emergency arises, one of my primary responsibilities is to gather information to share with supporters and partners in the United States and raise funds online to support UNICEF's emergency response in the field. As I sit in front of a computer in an office with electricity, heat, and clean water my fellow UNICEF colleagues are on the front lines working tirelessly to help children in much different conditions.I got a very small glimpse of the complexity of UNICEF's response to an emergency and the immense challenge of managing information in a crisis when I recently had the opportunity to participate in an emergency simulation exercise at our offices here in New York. Developed in partnership with UNICEF's Technology for Development (T4D) team and Design for UNICEF at NYU, and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the activity was first conducted at the 2011 U.S. Fund for UNICEF Annual Meeting last May and then again at the Campus Summit in October. Last week the U.S. Fund staff was invited to experience the simulation for themselves. Essentially the emergency simulation put us in the heart of an emergency scenario and, more specifically, into a key role within one of UNICEF's emergency cluster groups—Water and Sanitation (WASH), Nutrition, Education, Health & Immunization, Child Protection, Supply Division and Communications. I was assigned to the Communications Team where we were charged with collecting information from headquarters to distill and share with other groups, gather progress updates from other cluster groups to report back to HQ, prepare a press release, all the while dealing with the various media inquiries on the UNICEF response to the emergency. Other groups were given tasks relevant to their priority areas—for example, the Health Cluster needed to assess damage areas and number of families affected in order to understand the quantities and types of vaccines to order from our supply division in Copenhagen. While I knew it was only a simulation, my heart was racing as we all worked on our assignments. There was a lot of intensity, chaos, and pressure as we all scrambled to make the best decisions possible to help children and families affected by the disaster scenario. It was a real eye opener for me and I left the exercise with a whole new appreciation and understanding of the extraordinary work UNICEF does on behalf of the world’s children. A worthwhile experience, indeed.