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May 29, 2008

Red Cross hosts international disaster simulation exercise

Story PictureIn times of disaster, one of the first organisations to react is the Red Cross. And to make sure members are in touch with the latest in preparedness, for the last two weeks Red Crescent and Red Cross volunteers from across the globe have been participating in a simulation exercise in Belize. News Five’s Kendra Griffith reports from the Toledo district.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
For the last ten days, the usual clip clop of horses in the Maya village of Corazon in the Toledo district has been mixed with the drone of diesel engines and foreign accents as over twenty Red Cross workers from twelve countries have set up camp behind the community centre.

The men and women are participants in the International Federation of Red Cross second annual Field School Programme.

Martin Fisher, Operations Mgr., Field School
“These would be very much the leaders, the leaders of the societies working with the volunteers in an emergency, but the ones who are making the decision, who are telling the volunteers what to do.”

Martin Fisher is the head of operations for the two-week exercise.

Martin Fisher
“A lot of it is a group of facilitators working with individual groups throughout the day. Some of it is formal training but on the ground. There’s no powerpoints, no classrooms. In the Red Cross we often need people in the field to do good on the ground assessments for new emergencies. So what we are doing here is we’re taking a number of people from Red Crosses, particularly in the Americas region but one or two others as well, and we are giving them some skills. They are mostly medical people, but we’re giving them additional assessment skills, working with communities, planning and so on. So we’re building on their medical knowledge.”

Although the team is based in Corazon, they are also working in five other nearby communities. On Thursday, they were in Dolores conducting a simulation.

Benjamin Kioko Kiilu, Kenya Red Cross
“The scenario today is that there is an influx of refugees coming are malnourished, they are pregnant women, there are coming from a war zone. They don’t have food, they not don’t possess any items, there are children and they have anger for some time.”

With residents playing the role of refugees, the crew sprung into action, using a primary school as their base of operations.

Abby Goldstein, Panama Red Cross
“The first service they would receive would be triage. And we have Santiago, in addition to other general members of the community to help us with security and to make sure people are informed about what they would receive and where they would receive it here.”

From triage, the refugees would go on to first aid…

Abby Goldstein
“In the first aid consultation they would evaluate for dehydration risks, they would also evaluate for malnutrition.”

Their injuries taken care of, the focus then shifts to food…

Abby Goldstein
“Yesterday as they were coming in, we provided some high energy biscuits to the refugees as part of the simulationso they something for immediate consumption until a larger general ration that was more subsistent of general ration, corn, beans, salt, sugar, oil, and a blended food mixture that would make some sort of porridge that they could use.”

Next comes water, which is filtered using portable machines.

Benjamin Kioko Kiilu
“We know we are not in a real life situation, but these things are what comes in a real life situation and it’s quite exciting to be in this kind of training. We must be able to get out of books and be real on the ground and know that things change minute by minute.”

Abby Goldstein
“It’s given us a great opportunity to learn a lot and be prepared both to provide information to the Belizean Red Cross should there be a need, in addition to prepare the international Red Cross should there be a greater need and people from other countries who would come in to assist here in Belize or anywhere else.”

First Aid Coordinator Merrilie Ellis, is one of three Belizeans participating in the exercise.

Merrilie Ellis, Belize Red Cross
“For me, what was most interesting I think or most educational was understanding the process from I mean we were out building shelters, we were out setting up water sanitation systems in the hot sun, in the mud and everything and the thing is you do everything from that to writing the appeal for funds. You go from that to writing budgets and all of this. So it’s this huge big thing that gives you tons of information.”

Karen Diaz, President, Belize Red Cross
“You can’t even put a value on how much good this is going to do for our national society, the experience we can draw from them in times of a disaster. We are coming up again right now on hurricane season. These are people we would be able to bring them out right away and say come on, you’ve done all the scenario training, what do we do, what do we do right now.”

As a token of their appreciation to residents, the Red Cross says it will repaint the Corazon Community Centre and donate a portable water purifier to the villages that participated in the exercise. For the residents of Dolores, the gift and a new hurricane shelter, dramatically boosts their ability to cope with disaster.

Santiago Tzub, Resident, Dolores
“I know that this village could be hit by the hurricane when the hurricane will come, will wash away all the roof, all the thatch houses and thank God that we have a new school. We all hope that we will all protect in this school.”

Kendra Griffith
“Before this you all didn’t have a hurricane shelter?”

Santiago Tzub
“Yes, this is the first time we have a hurricane shelter.”

Kendra Griffith
“What would you all do if a hurricane would threaten to come?”

Santiago Tzub
“We just only ask some help from the Belize Red Cross, you know.”

Knowing how heavily people rely on them, the Red Cross is also expanding the types of training offered to volunteers and Ministry of Health personnel to include psychosocial issues.

Karen Diaz
“What we found during hurricane Dean in particular, was that a lot of people said we just need somebody to talk to. We have to unburden and we weren’t prepared to take on those psychological burdens. So now we have a group of core individuals that are trained countrywide. These are the types of things that we do to make ourselves stronger for the next event because there will be another event.”

The Field School Programme ends on Sunday. From the Toledo District for News Five, I am Kendra Griffith.

According to Red Cross President Karen Diaz, the society is still assisting residents in the north to recover from Hurricane Dean. Diaz says those efforts should close off in the middle of June and the Red Cross will conduct an internal evaluation of their response.

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