Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A student perspective, Crisis and Disaster Management

6th Annual BBK Summer Academy. Photo Credit: Doug Hanchard
Every year, the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Management of the Ministry of Interior in Germany sponsors an International Summer Academy in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. Students from all over the world (23 countries) have travelled to be part of this special program over the past 6 years. Most of the candidates are in postgraduate programs in Rescue Engineering, Crisis and Disaster Management Master's. The program covers critical elements disaster managers must understand at a local, regional and national level. It is an intense and exhausting two weeks of preparation, study and simulations that enable students to understand in broad terms disaster management challenges. Many of the students have operational first response experience. Learning how senior leadership works is the next step in their career path. Such opportunities are often rare or not even available.

Steering group consisting of experienced staff
from the U.S., Germany and Canada simulate
Christchurch earthquake of June 2011.
Photo: Doug Hanchard
The faculty of the Summer Academy are not your usual instructors. Every instructor, lecturer and advisor has field experience deploying to every major disaster over the past 20 years. From Indonesia to Haiti, Christchurch, Japan, Italy, and of course within Germany. All are dedicated civil protection leaders and advisors that understand the demands placed upon emergency response leaders and specialists. The steering groups managing the sand table exercises are all experts in a variety of fields, from Fire Brigades to National Police departments. Academy alumni volunteers augment the steering groups with past lessons learned and play key roles.

Aaron Bull of Brandon, Manitoba heard about the Summer Academy from a former student of the program. Asked to write about his experience at the Academy, here is his account of how the Summer Academy unfolded.

I am a student at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada as an Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies Major. I have completed my undergraduate thesis which focused on Community Evacuation Planning and a field placement involving Mass Gathering Evacuation Planning. I have nearly ten years’ experience in the emergency services field starting as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic, then graduating from the Manitoba Emergency Services College and working my way up the ladder in professional positions. I’m currently employed full-time by the Department of National Defence as a Deputy Platoon Chief at Canadian Forces Base Shilo in Manitoba, Canada.
In January 2014 while checking my Facebook newsfeed I stumbled across the application brochure to the 6th Annual BBK Summer Academy. After visiting the website and looking it over I was very intrigued and contacted my classmate who had attended previously. She had nothing but positive things to say about her experience and encouraged me to apply. I was still sceptical and a little apprehensive but figured it may be a once in a life time opportunity so I began the work required to submit my application.

After waiting for a few months I got the news I was waiting for. I was invited to attend the Summer Academy at the AKNZ in Ahrweiler Germany. I had very little expectations of what to expect at the Academy. I had never been to Europe before and you could say I was a little intimidated to be traveling so far into the unknown for two weeks. Being familiar with the Canadian system I did hope I would have a chance to learn more about the German Civil Protection System. I was really looking to forward to meeting like-minded students from around the globe and was excited when I found out that 23 countries would be represented.

Aaron (center right) learning how
to give a disaster press conference.
Photo: Doug Hanchard
After three flights and being awake for 24 hours I thankfully arrived at Köln / Bonn Airport. From there I still needed to find my bus and then a train to take me into Ahrweiler. From the moment I got off the train and was greeted by Mr. Tietz the entire experience was first class! When we arrived at the AKNZ we were greeted and welcomed by the staff and they were more than accommodating to our needs making sure we felt at home for the next two weeks.

Monday morning started bright and early, little would I know the next two weeks would go by too fast. The days were filled with lectures, hands on media training, table top scenarios and team building exercises. I enjoyed how many of the guest lecturers had extended stays in order to assist with the program, mentor students and critique the table top scenarios.

Sand Table Exercise. Photo: Doug Hanchard
I was not let down and I am sure that if I had had pre-conceived expectations they would have been by far exceeded. I was able to learn about the German Civil Protection System and Incident Management System. Speakers from around the world including Italy, Great Britain, Canada, United States of America and Germany shared their knowledge and expertise in their relevant fields. The last week consisted for the most part in table top scenarios. I had done table top scenarios in the past but the level at which they were conducted at the AKNZ blew me away. Using actual past events, timelines and a shroud steering group made it seem at times as if you were actually in a real Emergency Operation Centre and making decisions and taking actions with real consequences.

The amount of information that I was able to bring home is priceless along with the countless new friends and colleagues I made. I will utilize the contacts that I have made from the Summer Academy to help me steer my career path as I go into the future. I will also use the information I took home to inform others about areas such as risk communication, which tends to be undervalued at times. Overall the Summer Academy was an experience that will forever influence my understanding of Emergency Management and Civil Protection.

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