human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Emergency prevention

Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina simulates earthquake response

Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina, in cooperation with Diocesan Caritas from Bosnia and Herzegovina and partners from Italy, Belgium, USA as well as Caritas Europa, carried out an exercise simulating the response during 72 hours that follow an earthquake.

Preparedness is one of the strategical goals of Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina and part of its disaster risk reduction programme. And learning by doing is the best way to learn. The simulation took place during a 72-hour period. Before the exercise, Caritas Bosnia and Herzegovina organised a short training about Caritas Europa/Caritas Internationalis emergency coordination mechanism. Staff from Catholic Relief Services in the USA (CRS) also participated in the training.

The last serious earthquake in Bosnia and Herzegovina happened almost 50 years ago in 1969 in Banja Luka. We are aware that from time to time earthquakes can happen and that the response to them is very different from the response to floods. A serious earthquake can cause a lot of material damage and even more human losses, and that is why we chose the earthquake for our simulation. In our scenario, a 5 to 8 magnitude earthquake occurred over a large area of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The idea was to activate all the procedures that we have developed so far, to use the manual and handbooks available for a response, to share knowledge and experience and, in the end, to carry out a self-assessment of capacities in each participating organisation.

Throughout the 72 hours, staff could show what they had already learned in the past during the many trainings on this or a related subject. It was amazing to see how people got into their roles and acted as if it was really a disaster, planning how support could be provided and using the templates and procedures of Caritas Internationalis. The participation of partners from Italy, Belgium, CRS and Caritas Europa contributed to make the atmosphere even more real. To further add to this sense of realism, we gave staff some confusing information and requests and left out, on purpose, some information to evaluate the extent of their knowledge.

Through this exercise we found out what the strengths of Caritas are and it is on these that we must build on for the future. We are often aware of our capacities, but sometimes in a too humble way. At the same time, this simulation was also a way of learning the gaps that need to be filled with new systematic trainings, documents, clearer procedures and stronger connections among actors both inside and outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Lessons learnt will be the basis for future capacity building to improve our response and to really be at the service of people for their wellbeing.

Our intention is to replicate this exercise with more partners and donors in the near future, using another example of a disaster with different needs.