The Logistics Response Training 8 - Surviving Brinland by Anthony Freeman

18 October 2010

Its 5am and as usual I’m awake before the alarm. Today I’m a little nervous, anxious even, in particular about my assignment; team leader of ‘Brin 2’, a fictional logistics response team (LRT), deployed to a fabricated earthquake in an invented country, all conceived and conjured out of the mind of Bernard Chomilier – head of the Logistics Development Unit at WFP and the Wizard of Logs.

It’s an unenviable task leading a team of unknown qualities into the fray of a yet to be identified situation. Yet as I dress in the same clothes I wore yesterday – I’m still unsure whether my lost luggage is part of an elaborate plot - I begin to wonder if I’m at all the most suitable person for this task. I come with a bit of a reputation, loud Australian, self-opinionated, loves to hear the sound of his own voice, doesn’t listen… and this is only what my children tell me. So with all this on my shoulders, I’m now being entrusted with holding aloft WFPs reputation as the Lead Agency for the Logistics Cluster. Boy oh boy, do I wish I was back in Kabul - my safety zone, or at least lost with my luggage, wherever it may be …

The team and I leave the hotel at 0630, exactly 72 hours after the fictitious earthquake, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale devastated Brinland. Four members of the team are to remain in the capital. The other six team members are deployed to the forward base station, where they will set up camp. We’ve been briefed by Security on the Do’s and Dont’s and issued with an itinerary of the day’s meetings & briefings – a long list of who’s who from other UN Agencies, NGOs, Government officials etc. The day will end in a meeting of the logistics community to present findings and proposed Concept of Operations of the “LRT Brin 2” team.

Punta della Contessa is the location of the forward response base, a relatively short drive south from Brindisi and perched on land’s edge, facing the Adriatic Sea. This is to be our home for the coming week, a collection of prefabs for office and accommodation, laid out at the foot of an old watch-tower. Across from the coastal scrub, located in a similar establishment and kept clandestine from the participants, the “wizard” and his “umpa-lumpa’s” send out a barrage of emails interjecting information, some of it relevant some of it not so, building the scenario adding confusion, clarification and at some point confirmation on what my team is expected to accomplish.

 LRT 8 - Surviving Brinland

Bernard and his team of facilitators - a rather rough looking lot, some of whom resemble those most difficult of characters; we’ve all worked with, experienced and loathed at some time in our careers – gather in the ‘control room’; the number of facilitators outnumbers the participants. Though there is good reason for it, as the facilitators wear many ‘hats’ during the week. Some hats are worn better than others, but each one plays an essential and integrated role, setting the scene and adding to the anonymity and obscurity that is the LRT.

Day whatever?? My suitcase finally arrives. Lucky coz my team members were beginning to comment on the number of flies hanging-out in our prefab, plus my eight-day old Japanese underwear has abandoned me and was last seen boarding a ferry to Albania…. seriously though, for a simulation exercise it feels like we’ve been through the ringer and back and we’ve still days to go.

As the days flow into one another and time becomes oblivious, both teams are burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines –* at this moment we pay homage and our utmost respect to the espresso machine, without which, the participants of LRT 8 and I suspect similarly those who have come before, would have never made ends meet* – document after document; write, read, re-read, re-write, proof read, submit – redo, re-read, resubmit – re-bloodydiculous… But wait!!! …a RESULT!!! It’s all coming to together now, hours of discussion, decision making, team building, delegation of tasks, sitting in front of computers knocking out reports, proposals, sitreps and presentations… finally the end is nigh!

As they say in the classics “All good things must come to an end”, well so too does the LRT 8. Camaraderie, friendships, pats-on- the- back all round, a job well done, of course we never actually moved anything, nor did we see a beneficiary, let alone save a single life, but we learnt, we bonded, we disagreed, but never came to fisticuffs and ultimately we produced as a team. Whether or not we got it right 100% of the time, every time, we’ll never know, but the teams of Brin 1 and 2 certainly came away with a greater understanding in respect of the needs of one another, our different agency expectations and how, with a little bit of teamwork, common sense and a load of espresso, the seemingly impossible tasks are indeed possible. Although this doesn’t do justice to describe the effort and pre-planning that has gone into making the LRT as realistic a scenario as possible, further accolades will be awarded by the contribution and efforts of those participants in real emergencies to come.

Anthony Freeman began his career with WFP in 1995 in Lokichokio, Kenya during Operation Lifeline Sudan. Since his initial experience Anthony has worked in North and South Sudan, Eritrea, Kenya again, and most recently Kabul. He has also contributed to various emergencies responses including the February 2000 flood response in Mozambique, the Pakistan earthquake response in 2005 and Pakistan again in 2009 in response to the IDP crisis in Swat Valley.