Over spring break, four Georgetown University undergraduates and one graduate student will take part in the Atlantic Hope humanitarian disaster simulation in conjunction with the Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network in Fort Pierce, Fla.
The simulation, which will occur from March 6 through 9 at the Public Safety Training Complex of Indian River State College, provides a hands-on field training experience that models what it is like for responders aiding a crisis zone. The program uses the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program.
In order to find interested students, former simulation participant and Atlantic Hope Staff Development Officer Ariana Tuchman (GRD ’15) approached JUHAN on campus.
Mary Oeftering (SFS ’14), Sophia Berhie (SFS ’14), Taylor Griffin (COL ’14) and Zoe Mowl (SFS ’15) are the four undergraduate JUHAN fellows who will be participating. JUHAN is an initiative through the Center for Social Justice and the Institute for the Study of International Migration that works on improving the education of humanitarian issues and awareness.
“We also coordinate response on campus to humanitarian crises,” Oeftering said. “When the disaster in the Philippines happened last semester, we helped coordinate all of the different offices and clubs that would want to raise money so that we could make one big donation as a university. This is so people are not doubling their efforts where work has already been made.”
Participants will take on the role of aid workers operating in Atlantica, a fictional country modelled after many past conflict zones.
“Atlantica has evolved over the years. It used to be somewhat of a post-Soviet Union state. After the Haitian Earthquake, we worked in pieces simulating it. Now it is kind of taking a Syria tone. It is fictional enough where people cannot always know what they are responding to,” Tuchman said.
Overall, the simulation will involve 39 undergraduates from different areas of the country.
“We have students [who] come in with a variety of backgrounds. Some are nursing students [who] want to work in hospitals in the U.S. and for them it is a good experience to learn how to deal with high-stress environments. Some people are political science students who want to join the Peace Corps. We also have nontraditional students who may be in their 30s and 40s who come,” Tuchman said.
The focus on the leadership part of the program ensures that participants are in control of the situations. The staff members act as controllers and evaluators, but do not directly participate in the program. Their role is to make sure that the participants stay safe and that they are completing the learning objectives.
Many past participants of the program have gone on to aid in humanitarian efforts around the world. One former participant is working in Mali with the World Food Program and another is currently completing conflict resolution work in South Sudan.
“After I participated, I worked in Kenya at an internally displaced persons camp over the summer. It definitely was not nearly as intense as Atlantica,” Tuchman said.“There were a few minor emergencies or potential things that could have happened while in Kenya. I just feel like I had a much better reaction, as I was able to take a deep breath and gain some situational understanding.”
Both the participants anticipate personal growth from the coming experience.
“I am hoping that this simulation will help me determine if I am cut out for humanitarian work. I am definitely nervous — I think it is more that I don’t know what will happen. I think they are intentionally vague so that we aren’t prepared for everything that happens because you are not prepared for everything in a crisis,” Oeftering said.
Participants additionally look forward to the practical insight that the simulation will offer.
“I think the simulation will take me out of my comfort zone, which will be incredibly challenging but also [will be] a growing experience for me. It will give me insight into the structural and practical difficulties [that] humanitarian workers face on the ground. It’s an incredible opportunity to apply the theories and practices I learn about in the classroom to a real, simulated event,” Berhie said.