Inside the Haiti Earthquake: A Simulation

  • Posted on: 12 November 2010
  • By: Bryan Schaaf

Inside Disaster is an interactive, educational website about the Haiti earthquake response and about humanitarian work in general.  It is a companion to an upcoming three part documentary series that explores the complexities of the Haiti response.  The website contains many useful resources for the aspiring or current humanitarian, the most interesting of which is a simulation that allows the participant to experience the earthquake as a survivor, as an aid worker, or as a journalist. The simulation, well worth a look, is called Inside the Haiti Earthquake. Inside Disaster would welcome your feedback on the website.


The documentary tracks the struggles of the Haitian people through the eyes of Red Cross responders as well as three individuals directly affected by the disaster. A summary of the background of each person follows:


Jean-Pierre Taschereau is the leader of the IFRC Field Assessment and Coordination Team in Haiti. He first worked for the Red Cross as a volunteer, helping provide relief to people displaced by floods in his hometown of Sainte-Marie de Beauce, Quebec. Nineteen years later, he is leading the largest single-country response in Red Cross history. JP led the Red Cross’s earthquake response in Peru in 2007 and managed the organization’s hurricane response in Haiti in 2008. He knows, however, that this mission in Haiti is different: a major disaster, in a capital city, in one of the poorest countries in the world. The scale of the disaster and the population’s overwhelming need move him and his team to call in 21 Emergency Response Units (ERUs) in the first two weeks.  They immediately set priorities: health, water,food, and shelter. As the situation on the ground changes, so do priorities. JP has to adapt to constantly shifting realities as displaced Haitians migrate, food insecurity grows and the rainy season threatens hundreds of thousands of people left homeless by the earthquake.


Steve McAndrew, over the past decade, has responded to nearly 50 disasters around the world. He arrives in Haiti on day 3 after the quake to lead the Red Cross’s global relief distributions. His emergency response team is among the first to start distributing blankets, tarps, and cooking sets, but their supplies are limited to pre-positioned stock held in-country by the Haitian Red Cross. In the first few weeks of the Red Cross operation, the biggest challenge is getting enough supplies to distribute. Military food drops and the use of armed security in the first days of the response have set a disorderly tone for distributions, which make it difficult for organizations like the Red Cross to operate. Committed to providing aid without guns, Steve’s team works with local committees to help assess and distribute relief. Getting the Red Cross’s message and goods across to the million plus Haitians in need is never easy.


The Haiti earthquake is Gennike’s first natural disaster response. As an information officer with the Red Cross national society in Trinidad, her day-to-day work deals with numbers and statistics; in Haiti, she’s seeing the human face of a disaster for the first time. As the FACT team’s information officer, Gennike’s job is to report on what’s happening in the field so that donors can get the Red Cross’s perspective on the relief operation, and understand the team’s priorities and challenges. On day 2 of the disaster, she files her first story: about how the Red Cross is coping with helping thousands of people injured in the earthquake. In a makeshift clinic, set up in the car park of a police station, Gennike is moved to try to help a pregnant woman who will die if she doesn’t receive medical treatment. Throughout her mission Gennike comes face to face with people who need her assistance, forcing her to come to terms not only with her own limitations in providing help, but also the limitations of large organizations like the Red Cross.


Ian Heigh leads the Logistics Emergency Response Unit, the most critical component of the Red Cross mission in the early days of a disaster. His job is to get specialized teams, life-saving equipment and relief supplies into the field – but the Haiti earthquake presents a record number of complicating factors. The scale of the disaster, the number of people affected, a weak pre-existing infrastructure, and the location of the earthquake – near over-crowded capital city Port-Au-Prince – make Haiti one of the most challenging missions of Ian’s 20-year career. His team must move tens of thousands of tonnes of supplies through a damaged airport, a destroyed port, and a city in ruins. Within two weeks, the Red Cross’s Haiti operation becomes the largest disaster response the organization has ever run in a single country. Twenty-one Emergency Response Units (ERUs) supplying health care, water, sanitation, relief and shelter are deployed to the field. With more than half of Port-Au-Prince flattened, Ian is also tasked with finding land and warehouse space for the rapidly expanding operation.


Hossam Elsharkawi, at age four, was medevaced out of war-torn Gaza by the Red Cross. As soon as he was old enough, he began volunteering in disaster zones. A public health specialist, Hossam is in charge of establishing the Red Cross’s rapid deployment hospital, an Emergency Response Unit (ERU) which he helped develop. It is designed for easy transport and quick assembly and the Haiti earthquake is its first deployment. Hossam and his medical team are on the ground just four days after the quake, but logistical problems delay surgeries.  A damaged airport, blocked roads and downed communications are recurring challenges in the early days of the operation.With 20 years experience responding to some of the world’s worst disasters in over 30 countries, Hossam becomes the point person for organizing the dozen NGOs that set up around the general hospital in downtown Port-au-Prince.


Magalie Landee is a 37-year-old, middle class entrepreneur who lost four of her five children, her business and her house in the earthquake. She lives on the street next to her destroyed home with her 11-year-old son, and her deeply depressed husband. Weeks go by and Magalie’s neighbourhood of Carrefour-Feuille, in the hills surrounding Port-au-Prince, receives very little assistance. A water truck comes regularly, but food is scarce for those who don’t have money.  Magalie must rely on the goodwill of her neighbours to eat. She and her remaining family members sleep on pieces of cardboard on the street in the open air. There is no privacy to wash or go to the bathroom. Magalie is a strong woman, who built a thriving electronics business with the help of her family, but her resolve seems to have died along with her children. She says she doesn’t have the strength to start over. For Magalie, staying alive is a daily battle.


Marcel Phevenun can fix anything. He’s a mechanic by trade and a survivor at heart. None of Marcel’s family died in the earthquake, but he lost his home.  Refusing to dwell on the past, Marcel immediately builds a shelter made of wood and sheet metal for himself and his family in Champ de Mars, a 35,000-person camp opposite the destroyed National Palace. To feed his family, Marcel finds work fixing motorbikes and cars; he has never been dependent on aid and doesn’t want to start now. He is the leader of a large extended family: a wife, a son, a daughter, eight siblings, and his mother. They all look to Marcel for answers, especially his mentally challenged brother, Romain. Romain dreams about going to the United States because he loves Obama and sees no future in Haiti. It is up to Marcel to balance the hopes and dreams of not only the loved ones around him, but himself. Weeks after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti remains dire and Marcel is worried about his future and the future of his country.


Louken Pluviose is a volunteer paramedic without formal medical training working in a camp called Juvenat. When the earthquake struck, he and his friends pulled survivors from the rubble: people with broken bones, open wounds and missing limbs. Louken spent the first days of the disaster going to doctors’ homes collecting what he could to treat the wounded. Before the earthquake, Louken had been a volunteer with the Red Cross, where he received first aid and disaster response training. Starting with only gauze and a few aspirin, he builds a first-class clinic with the help of the Nicaraguan military. He quickly becomes a community leader in his camp of 3,000, not only dispensing drugs and basic health care, but also advocating on behalf of survivors for food and shelter.


You can also read reviews about the documentary series, learn more about the film-makers, and see how they made it.  The documentary will first be aired on the TVO Network in Canada in early 2011, but will subsequently be screened around the world.  It will also be available on DVD sometime in 2011.  Feel free to post your thoughts on the simulation in the comments section below.  



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