PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 03/08/2013

simulations miscellany, 3 August 2013

History-of-Sim-part-2

Some recent simulations-related items that may be of interest to our readers.

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AFP recently featured a report on humanitarian training simulations, and the role they can play in preparing humanitarian workers for growing challenges in the field:

Go, go!” shouts a soldier at five Red Cross aid workers crammed into a 4×4 truck speeding into the woods as explosions go off nearby, sending up plumes of white smoke.

The scene feels menacing and real. But it is in fact taking place far from an actual battlefield and just a stone’s throw from a city renowned for its international peace efforts, in one of the safest countries on the planet.

Welcome to Alpesia, an imaginary land created by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 15 years ago in the woods of Geneva. Here the Sequane Liberation Front rebels are facing off against the authorities in a “conflict” tailored to teach new aid workers how to face the increasingly dangerous world they will soon be ushered into.

Nearly 200 participants, who have to be between 25 and 35 years old, pass the simulation test each year before joining a profession where armed attacks, kidnappings and hospital bombings are becoming ever more prevalent.

In the Swiss woods, they get a taste for what life could be like on mission: military checkpoints, visits to destroyed hospitals and a refugee camp — all within eight days of practical and theoretical training.

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The New York Times (2 August 2013) has a long report on “The Dog-Eat-Dog World of Model UN.”

 This is not F.D.R.’s Model United Nations, that rigid simulation of General Assembly protocol and decorum. Conferences like this one in Philadelphia, hosted by the club at Penn, have turned MUN, as it’s called, into a full-fledged sport, with all the competitiveness and rowdiness that suggests. Today, there are official sponsors, a ranking of schools and, much to the chagrin of traditionalists, non-U.N. role play.

MUN’s roots are older than the United Nations itself. In 1927, Harvard invited nine colleges to a simulation of the League of Nations, nearly a decade after that body’s creation in the wake of the First World War. Today, anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 high school and college students in this country attend Model U.N. each year, according to the United Nations Association of the United States of America.

In classic MUN, students represent the positions and values of assigned countries, adhering to official protocols when speaking, negotiating and drafting resolutions. Consensus is important, and the process of arriving at innovative solutions to global problems the goal. That is still the prevailing model. But a new breed of Model U.N., popular among student-run clubs at elite universities, has a distinctly different philosophy. Their “crisis committees” focus on a single historical event (the 1929 Atlantic City conference of crime bosses, for example) and fantasy recreations (“Star Wars,” “Harry Potter”). Participants battle it out in four-day conferences in hopes of winning a coveted gavel, awarded to the strongest member on each committee, and schools with the most “best delegates” top the new rankings.

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HGWellsThe BBC (2 August 2013) offers a look at “Little Wars: How HG Wells created hobby war gaming,”

It is a century since HG Wells published the first proper set of rules for hobby war games. There’s a hardcore of gamers who are still playing by his code.

Pine tips are stuck in the grass to represent trees. Roads are laid out with trails of compost.

This is the Battle of Gettysburg, with Union soldiers on one side and Confederates on the other. But the soldiers of this new Gettysburg are 54mm (2in) tall and mostly made of plastic.

The battle is taking place between a group of enthusiasts in a garden at Sandhurst military academy under the rules of Little Wars, devised by HG Wells in 1913.

War was then looming in Europe and Little Wars was both an expression of Wells’s passion for toy soldiers and to his fears over the coming slaughter. The science fiction author even believed that war games could change attitudes.

“You only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be,” wrote Wells.

But this is looked on with disapproval by some modern war gamers, who prefer theoretical bombardments worked out with distance tables.

Phil Barker, a celebrated deviser of modern games, acknowledges Wells’s role in “showing it could be done – and giving grown men an excuse to play with toy soldiers”.

But he adds: “Combat was based on shooting solid projectiles at the figures. Today, this would be discouraged because of the risk of someone getting a projectile in the eye, but it was the chance of damage to the finish of lovingly home-painted figures that led to the switch to less lethal dice.”

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Given both  continued Sino-Japanese suspicions stretching back to before WWII and continued territorial disputes between the two countries over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands/Tiaoyutai/Pinnacle islands—what you call them depends on which claim you are advancing—it is hardly surprising that they have become the subject of a video game. According to The Diplomat (2 August 2013):

 Chinese video game, designed in part by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and originally intended as a training tool for soldiers, allows gamers to engage in all-out war against foreign enemies. An early version of Glorious Mission generated a fair share of controversy when it appeared to pit virtual soldiers against the U.S. military.

Today, a more recent version of theCall of Duty clone received an update, containing a new mission – a siege of the contested Diaoyu Islands – a move that embodies China’s shifting of aggression from America to its Asian neighbor and past colonizer, Japan.

Disputed islands between China and Japan have become the centerpiece of diplomatic tension in Asia. Called the Diaoyu Islands by China and the Senkaku Islands by Japan, bitter territorial disputes over ownership of the rocky outcroppings have sparked mass protests in both countries. Chinese nationalists went as far as burning and looting Japanese-owned businesses in China last year, following a Japanese government announcement that it would purchase and nationalize the uninhabited islets.

Glorious Mission Online’s latest downloadable content (DLC) gives Chinese gamers a chance to virtually evict Japanese “invaders” by force – aided by China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier and an arsenal of military weaponry.

“Players entering the game will fight alongside Chinese armed forces and use their weapons to tell the Japanese that ‘Japan must return our stolen territory!’” read a press release on the game’s website,according to the South China Morning Post.

The video trailer for the scenario can be found here:

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MST_magazine_2013_lrWith regard to professional military training and simulation, the latest issue (3-4/2013) of Military Simulation & Training can be found here.

Review of the Canadian Humanitarian and Disaster Response Training Program SimEx 2013

June McCabe is an MA student in political science at McGill University, whose research interests including peace operations, humanitarian assistance, and simulations. She participated in the Canadian Humanitarian and Disaster Response Training Program in May, and offers these reflections on the experience.


 

Recently, there has been a growing trend in humanitarian response to use simulation exercises to train personnel for work in the field and improve organizational capacity by familiarizing humanitarian aid workers with protocols and standards for effective provision of aid. Simulations can be useful not only in research and knowledge creation but also as a method to teach in a practical way that is difficult to get from classroom experience alone. Moreover, simulation can help to provide a strong foundation for future aid workers pre-deployment so that when arriving on scene in a real crisis they have the personal and professional skills to cope. The Emergency Capacity Building Project has identified three distinct types of simulations used in humanitarian response: skill drills, where specific skills and knowledge are utilized and tested; functional simulation, where participants act in a role they could fulfill in a real crisis; and table top simulations, which involve discussion and problem solving of an aspect of a real or hypothetical crisis (Barnhardt, Bulten, Hockaday, Sitko, Staples 6).

HTIprogramFor over 10 years, the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard has offered a highly regarded training program, the Humanitarian Studies Initiative, which employs all three of these simulation methods to train both university students and aid workers in the basics of humanitarian response. This May, I participated in the first ever Canadian Humanitarian & Disaster Response Training Program conducted by the Humanitarian Training Initiative, which emulates the original Harvard program including the three day simulated humanitarian crisis called the SimEx.

By the end of the 10 day course, my knowledge of humanitarian aid had been greatly expanded. I now feel ready to consider aid work with a grasp on how it must be to work in the field. The sim showed some of us that we never want to do humanitarian aid work, while others of us found it invigorating and are preparing for deployments to the DRC. The simulation was the part of the course that brought what we had learned during the long classroom tutorials into focus. It challenged both our abilities and our ideas about being an aid worker. In the end, the SimEx was one of the most multifaceted and complex learning experiences I have ever had.

The SimEx Scenario

During the first week of the course, we learned about the cluster system, the Sphere core standards, as well as ethics and the history of humanitarian aid. Lectures were supplemented by table top exercises culminating in a mock aid project pitch where we created a project with short and long-term goals, a timeline, materials projections and budget estimates for an IDP camp in Côte d’Ivoire. The last three days of the course, the SimEx, took place on a campground at Sparrow Lake, Ontario made into the fictional country of Simlandia. The SimEx placed students in the midst of a complex emergency scenario where aid workers struggled to reach populations affected by a tsunami while dealing with tight military controls as well as rebel activity in the area. The simulation scenario itself touched on some of the most challenging aspects of a complex emergency including child soldiers, government manipulation of aid flows, celebrity appearance and of course, high security risks to NGO personnel.

THTIhe SimEx was built on both functional simulation and skill drill components. Upon arrival at the camp, students were broken into NGO teams (i.e. Oxfam, World Vision). Within the team, each student was assigned a cluster specific role (i.e. WaSH, Shelter, Security). During the day, NGO teams would rotate through different “stations” performing skill drills relating to a specific cluster. Each station challenged the students to employ knowledge of Sphere standards and skills learned during the first week of the course. Information collected at these stations also contributed to an overall picture of the developing humanitarian emergency. In contrast, the functional aspect of the sim focused almost entirely on the emotional and physical demands of being a humanitarian aid worker during the first day, week and then month of an emergency (time conversion on Days 1, 2 and 3). How to work as a team and communicate while being hot, hungry and tired was one of the most fundamental lessons the sim was designed to teach us.

Overall Assessment

Overall both the functional and skill drill portions of the simulation were educational and illuminating. The skill drills allowed students to utilize the training materials and information that we had learned during the previous week and carrying this out successfully was very motivating. The functional part of the simulation really allowed us to experience the stress and fatigue that can occur during a deployment immediately following a disaster. The most valuable and rewarding part of the functional portion of the simulation was learning how to work as a team and to rely on teammates for emotional and physical support. The course as a whole also provided a great networking opportunity for students trying to enter the humanitarian aid sector. The SimEx facilitators were very high caliber founts of knowledge, one of the program’s strongest points. Being able to work with such experienced and knowledgeable people like Dr. Kirsten Johnson and Dr. Hilarie Cranmer was a great learning opportunity.

While the simulation was largely constructed and executed well, the combination of skill drills and functional simulation as well as the short time allocated for debriefing post-simulation were areas in need of some improvement. The following sections will elaborate on these challenges and provide suggestions for future iterations of the SimEx.

Organizational Difficulties between Functional and Skill Drill Components

One of the primary reasons for including the SimEx in the humanitarian training program is to allow students to experience the stages of a humanitarian emergency scenario without the actual loss of life and accompanying emotional stress. However, the stress of trying to manage one’s team objectives, deal with the media, and function in the woods with little rest and food is still a difficult task in and of itself. These team objectives, coordination, report writing, lack of food and rest can all be considered part of the functional simulation component. The skill drill stations were interspersed with other big-picture events such as meetings with UN OCHA. Teams were often unprepared or unaware of what would happen at the next station because these big-picture functional events took so much time and focus. In the worst cases, the skill drills actually functioned in opposition to larger team objectives. For example, while trying to coordinate a food distribution in an IDP camp, we were brought as part of a skill drill to a meeting that ICRC had set up between my team and the local rebels, who happened to be child soldiers. We had not planned this meeting, nor did we understand the larger objective. In the end the meeting went poorly and we lost valuable time to plan the food distribution. In future years, the SimEx could be improved by tying the skill drills more closely to the larger scenario events and allowing teams more freedom to decide when, where and how they would attempt a skill drill. Although it is reasonable to have both functional simulation and skill drills in the same scenario they need to be integrated more smoothly for the students to truly benefit from them. A slightly less contrived station rotation would also help to maintain suspension of disbelief. To achieve this may require fewer skill drills or fewer events and assignments in the functional component. Students will continue to feel the stress of the scenario even with far fewer events to complete.

Debrief

Another critical aspect to simulation is the debriefing portion. Due to time constraints, debriefing was quite short in the SimEx. The Emergency Capacity Building Emergency Simulations Administrators’ guide recommends a debrief period equal to the time of the exercise itself (Klenk 50). Three whole days of debrief may be unnecessary, but a much greater emphasis should have been placed on debriefing after skill drills as well as the different stages of the functional simulation. It could be constructive to utilize the “experimental learning cycle” which breaks activities into stages of concrete experience, reflection, generalization, application and then a return to experience (Klenk 57). It would help students in the future to practice a skill drill or a specific event or scenario, debrief and then attempt a similar event utilizing the same skill. Debriefing in the middle of a scenario can disrupt the realism, however it is better to do so than not debrief. Perhaps this presents another difficultly in trying to integrate skill drill and functional simulation methods into the same scenario.

Summary

The program certainly achieved its goals to improve disaster preparedness of humanitarian aid workers attending the course. Through coordination of organizations like HTI, the long-term goal of improved operational capacity of NGOs and inter-sector communication seems quite possible. Students from these programs are receiving a standardized education of the field and the Sphere project, creating a common language that can be used during a crisis. The SimEx is an incredibly valuable learning tool and opportunity for growth. The specific goals of the SimEx were also met; the vast majority of students came out of the experience with a greater understanding of a humanitarian aid operation and whether they would like to participate in one in the future. Finally, as the Canadian training program expands and matures, hopefully some of the first time difficulties we experienced can be reflected on and used to improve the SimEx in the coming years.

June McCabe

References

Barnhardt, Daniel, Odile Bulten, David Hockaday, Pamela Sitko and James Staples. “Simulating the worst to prepare the best: a study of humanitarian simulations and their benefits.” ECB Project Case Study May 2013: Web. July 2013.

Humanitarian Training Initiative. “The 2013 Canadian Disaster and Humanitarian Response Training Program. ” 8-9 May. Web. August 2013.

Klenk, Jeff. “Emergency Simulations: Administrators’ Guide.” ECB Simulations Project 2007: Web. July, 2013.

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