This article is from the upcoming Research and Innovation Newsletter which will be published in late February

SimEx is an annual, three-day disaster simulation exercise run by the University of Portsmouth and Hampshire Fire and Rescue. The event regularly attracts over 400 participants from a range of organizations who take part in a mix of live, simulation and command and control events. Naomi Morris from the School of Environmental Sciences manages the exercise on behalf of the University and does this alongside her ‘day-job’ working in some of the world’s most challenging humanitarian zones. Here Naomi explains how networking, learning and knowledge-sharing motivate her to keep finding solutions for challenging and chaotic situations across the globe.

Many say working in emergency response is a life-style not a career and over the 15 years that I have spent working in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and many more countries in which I have been honored to work, I can certainly agree with this statement. There have been long hours where days never met restful nights and multiple times of waking in a strange bed with a fever that signaled another exotic disease to tick off my list. Working in complex environments, known mainly for war, to support people who, since birth, have known nothing else, has taught me to look for solutions. 

Innovating to find new solutions lies at the heart of the SimEx Series and its ability to bring together a community of practice in an operational environment grounded in applied research is key to its success. 24/7, over the course of the three-day event that takes place each May in Portsmouth, representatives from the emergency response community, academics and emergency services work together with the goal of learning and improving crisis response.

SimEx has highlighted gaps that often only become evident in the field only over much longer time-frames, these include issues surrounding information sharing, particularly during hand-overs and misunderstandings concerning terminology that is considered to be universally understood but is actually open to mis-interpretation. By testing approaches to informational management on the SimEx platform, during the recent migrant crisis in Greece we had effective products available for processing individuals: from their first assessment on entrance through to follow ups and referrals. This new process was more universally understood and helped ensure that any gaps were highlighted quickly and time was not lost. Simple documents visible to all and defining the current status of the disaster, along with the roles and responsibilities of those responding were also produced and made available across the various response teams.

In linking SimEx to the practitioner and research communities a real opportunity for growth, learning and positive change is being created. This community is enabling us to carry out on-going longitudinal work to ensure that an increasing number of practitioners have a shared knowledge and understanding of where and how gaps in provision occur and by increasing this awareness, effective solutions are beginning to emerge. The knowledge gained though SimEx is also disseminated through various targeted newsletters and journals and the work is further used to inform and revise teaching and training materials, for example on the University’s MSc Crisis and Disaster Management Course.

On returning from Iraq last week it was disheartening to see some of the work that had been completed in 2014, on a similar trip, had been lost. At these moments I take inspiration from understanding that the knowledge and learning that enable and bring solutions to such complex environments is a collective endeavor and that solutions emerge when stakeholders work together. For me, seeing the knowledge gained through the mixed academic and practitioner platform of SimEx applied on the ground is a very real and necessary release. 

For more information about the SimEx series of exercises or if you would like to use the platform for research, take a look here. If you would like to get involved with SimEx 2017, please sign up on the Contact Us page.