When Patrick McKay, an Information and Communication Technology Officer for WFP, disembarked the first plane to arrive at Beira airport following Cyclone Idai, the scene sparked a certain sense of familiarity.
“Getting off the plane was a near mirror image of the gear.UP exercise. I got off the plane into a destroyed city with no electricity, no communications and barely usable roads.”
The brainchild of the WFP-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and Logistics Cluster, gear.UP is one of the largest-scale humanitarian preparedness and response simulations globally.
Below, we chat with eight people from different professional backgrounds but with a common experience: each attended gear.UP, and in the 12 months following, each played a key role in supporting humanitarian operations around the world.
Here’s what they had to say about what to expect and what to take away from this unparalleled learning experience.
Geared.UP and ready to deploy
The exercise is intense, it’s tiring, and it’s as near-field conditions as possible - the latter being one of the simulation’s most important and distinct features.
Within just six months of completing the exercise, Patrick, like dozens before him, was deployed. Within an instant, what he had learned was no longer just a training exercise, it was reality.
Patrick McKay: Less than five months after gear.UP ended, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique. My experience in gear.UP had primed me really well, so I was prepared with offline Beira maps cached, and put what I called “the grid block” technique into practice to map the city. Gear.up was the first time I had to do large area mapping without internet access in the field, and under a very tight deadline.
Carlotta Negri (Coordination Officer, Logistics Cluster, Yemen): When I returned to Yemen, my duty station at the time, I realised that much of what I learned during gear.Up could also be applied not only to sudden onset crises, but also protracted emergencies – perhaps moreso in certain aspects. It always remains critical to exchange with partners, to listen to both their needs and to capitalise on their expertise to ensure an effective and coordinated response.
Martin Falebrand (Project Manager, Ericsson Response, Sweden): I have been deployed to several humanitarian disasters both before and after gear.UP. For me it was very much to step up and try another role that I might be deployed as in coming missions. Recently I was deployed to Mozambique. I was not there as ETC Coordinator or wingman, but with more knowledge in that work, it was much easier to provide support and take the right decisions.
The exercise aims to provide participants such as Carlotta (pictured) with near-real field conditions. Photo: Logistics Cluster
Brace yourself, be yourself and don’t expect “been there, done that”
Resistance is futile.
“Dive into the scenario and do not fight it,” says Gilles Hoffmann, emergency.lu Coordinator, based in Luxembourg.
"How well a person manages stress determines a large part of their success in gear.UP – and later in the field. The exercise gives participants a chance to understand their stress responses in a safe environment where there is still room to make mistakes and learn from them,” says Florian Gottschalk who volunteers as a Team Leader with the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief.
Advice from others?
Hajnalka Horvath (Supply Associate, UNHCR): If I could give only one piece of advice to the participants, then that would be to sleep enough before you go to the training, and of course bring a good attitude with you.
Martin Falebrand: Brace yourself! Really take the opportunity to learn. That is why we do this. To learn and improve. Next time it might be for real and there is no room for mistakes.
Patrick McKay: Get to know people from both clusters early on. When you’re working with friends there’s no ‘them and us’, and nobody plays the blame game. It’s far better when you see each other as part of one big team with everyone doing their best to get things done.
Florian Gottschalk: If you are not totally exhausted by the end, you didn’t get involved 100%.
Gilles Hoffmann: All over the exercise, I learned that the stress factor plays a major role in field deployments and makes the job way more difficult. Also, I experienced how important teamwork is. It was mostly the soft skills I learned during gear.UP that I could later use in the field. In addition, it allowed me to better manage stress during real deployments.
Patrick McKay deployed to Mozambique for the Cyclone Idai response less than 6 months following the gear.UP exercise. Photo: Emergency Telecommunications Cluster
“It’s a whirlwind”
Gear.UP isn’t for the faint-hearted. Combining some of the most challenging elements of both the ETC and Logistics Cluster training programmes, the annual event brings together over 150 participants and facilitators in the same place.
And for seven days, those 150 individuals spanning the emergency response sector collaborate, work together, and build networks, before crises.
Atmaja Sembiring (IT Operations Officer for WFP in Indonesia): During the exercise, participants from different cultures, organisations and backgrounds came together. I exercised my technical and soft skills but also my personality (temper, values) on how I deal with difficult situations and at the same time build good relationships with colleagues. It increased my confidence in dealing with people and my readiness to respond to future emergencies outside of my country.
James Trevena (Logistics Coordinator, Shelter Box, United Kingdom): The sheer scale of the training was the most memorable part for me. The amount of planning, resources, and effort that goes into gear.UP by all parties involved is incredible. The training simulation was so realistic and enhanced my technical skills and confidence to fulfill my job role in real life.
Nominations have been extended to this Friday 9 August! To apply, get in touch with the Logistics Cluster focal point for your organisation.