Heads are huddled closely around a map of the Pacific as a group of skilled Red Cross disaster responders discuss what to do after a fictional earthquake strikes a remote island off the coast of Fiji.
The group is participating in the first Regional Disaster Response Team (RDRT) training in the Pacific. Disaster response representatives from Red Cross societies in Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tokelau and Aotearoa took part in the week of intensive training.
“We are upskilling our disaster managers and our disaster responders in the Pacific to be able to support the Pacific Islands when they go through a disaster or are responding to a hazard event,” explains Lemau Afamasaga, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) disaster preparedness and operations manager in the Pacific.
The training included reporting and assessing the needs of a community affected by a disaster, how to utilise Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement standardised tools and how to work and engage with affected communities as they recover.
“Prior to this training we would only go out into the community for needs assessments,” reflects Tusi, a disaster management officer for Tuvalu Red Cross. “Now we have had this training in community engagement and accountability, we have recognised that community members are important stakeholders in this assessment, and we need to consult them.
“And not only the visible community members but everybody, so that we can make sure that everybody’s voice is heard.”
This training is timely, with cyclone season just around the corner. Having trained RDRT members in the Pacific means that help can reach people affected by cyclones and other disasters as soon as possible. And for many participants, the training has offered skills and knowledge that they will share with their communities at home.
Vanuatu Red Cross Disaster Management Officer Linda, who is took part in the training, says, “when I get back, myself and my colleague will organise a training for our youth volunteers. We will share this knowledge with our other colleagues and volunteers to ensure that all of us are better prepared for disasters in the future.”
A RDRT comprises of National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society volunteers or staff. They are trained to work as a team and bring assistance to National Societies in neighbouring countries. They are made up of a core group of people with cross-sectoral expertise, such as health, logistics, water and sanitation.
Lemau says this training is an important part of building Pacific response capacity.
“The idea was to host this [training] in the Pacific and build [capacity] in the Pacific so that they can respond to the islands when there is a disaster happening and when help is needed,” says Lemau.
These RDRT members will be ready to deploy within 24 to 48 hours to support neighbouring National Societies responding to a disaster in the Pacific.
The training, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and supported by the IFRC, is part of New Zealand Red Cross’ ongoing work to support and build capacity within Pacific national societies so that they are well equipped to work with their communities in times of need.