Crown Copyright, credit: SAC Kim Waterson. Photographic Section RAF Wittering
When disaster strikes, it takes quick, coordinated action to respond in a way that meets the needs of those affected. But what does it take to ensure that assistance is ready to take flight and respond effectively? It all starts with the right training.
Last month, members of Palladium’s Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team (HSOT), which is funded by UK aid, participated in “Exercise Swift Pirate”, a training exercise and simulation of a fictional humanitarian response for the Royal Air Force’s UK Mobile Air Movements Squadron (UKMAMS) at RAF Wittering, England. UKMAMS is the deployable element of 1 Air Mobility Wing (1AMW) based at RAF Brize Norton, and is the sister squadron of Air Movements Squadron (AMS) which manages movements operations at Brize Norton.
When a humanitarian crisis hits and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) intervenes to provide relief to affected populations, in most cases, non-food items are delivered through scheduled airfreight or commercial aircraft charter. However, when civil aircraft is not available and the military can meet a critical humanitarian need, the RAF is sometimes called in to assist. This happened in 2020, when the UK decided to deliver relief items destined for Syria to Turkey. RAF services were also used in 2019, when Cyclone Idai ravaged Mozambique, and in 2018, when an earthquake and tsunami hit Palu, Indonesia, while FCDO staff at post were on the ground assessing needs and coordinating the response.
Specifically, the AMS team at RAF Brize Norton will build aircraft pallets and load the aircraft from the UK. The UKMAMS team will deploy with the aircraft build pallets in downroute locations, and unload the supplies at the final destination. On behalf of the FCDO, which is responsible for leading the UK Government’s overall emergency response, HSOT coordinates with 1AMW on the planning and delivery of the relief items. Often at least one member of the Procurement and Logistics (P&L) team will meet UKMAMS during the offload in the affected country. This endeavour must happen quickly in the aftermath of a crisis and requires coordination across several teams with plenty of moving parts.
The aim of the “Exercise Swift Pirate”, which is a core part of the curriculum for anyone joining UKMAMS, is to ensure that the team is ready to provide fast and effective humanitarian support as soon as they’re needed. “These training exercises are key to ensuring the UK is ready to respond to disasters across the globe and get help to people in need," according to Phillida Strachan, the Deputy Head of the Humanitarian Response Group at FCDO. "I’m pleased that despite the challenges caused by the global pandemic, we are still able to maintain our world-class response when called on."
The training simulated an earthquake response for which UKMAMS had mobilised, operating across three fictional locations: an airbase in the Middle East from which the aircraft would take off, the main airport in the disaster-stricken country, and a forward operating base in the affected country closest to the affected and displaced populations.
Back in ‘the office’, the HSOT P&L staff fed into a tabletop exercise where the UKMAMS team could contact them as they would during a real emergency, to request details on the cargo to plan the aircraft load or ask questions about the aid recipients. The training component that includes the simulation of the cargo planning is key as this can be challenging during an emergency. For example, the type of aircraft offered may not be able to carry the full capacity of relief items, as other cargo or passengers may also need to be transported, as well other essentials for the route, such as fuel.
Following the exercise, HSOT delivered a presentation to the team on recent experiences and challenges, and displayed relief items that would have been delivered in a real-life emergency, such as hygiene and shelter kits, and solar lights.
Delivering the Goods
To simulate the delivery of supplies into the affected country, on the second day, a C-17 Globemaster aircraft based out of RAF Brize Norton delivered the relief to RAF Wittering, where the deployed UKMAMS team and an HSOT P&L representative received the cargo as it was unloaded from the aircraft. This simulated load was developed according to the tabletop load plans from the previous day.
The training also focused on human security, safety awareness and safeguarding. This has to remain a key consideration when UKMAMS teams come into contact with affected populations to ensure they do no harm, prioritise distributions of items based on needs and vulnerability, and address existing power structures that are often exacerbated during emergencies.
“Being invited to feed into the UKMAMS training exercise has been a fantastic opportunity to further develop our relationship with the RAF team, with whom we have worked on emergency responses over the years, from Indonesia to Turkey through to Mozambique” notes Alex Franklin, Senior Supply Chain Manager with HSOT.
“The exercise has also increased the resilience of FCDO’s supply chains as HSOT and UKMAMS now have a better understanding of how we each operate, as well as having direct lines of communications for the future,” adds Franklin. “With this training coinciding with the beginning of the 2021 hurricane season, the participation in the exercise could be well-timed should an emergency response be required.”
“The UKMAMS team was so engaged on the topics and how to best support these humanitarian missions," notes HSOT Logistics Officer Christine Colburn. "The opportunity to tie in safeguarding considerations is paramount, and they were very receptive, which will be helpful in any future responses.”
“I’m delighted that FCDO have agreed to come and help us do this exercise as well because it’s really relevant training to them as well as it is to the Ministry of Defence,” adds Squadron Leader Katherine Ingram, Deputy Commander of 1 Air Mobility Wing. “It’s added so much value to the team’s understanding of how the FCDO operates at ground level. This interaction in training demonstrates the benefits that early communication with key FCDO personnel has on delivering effective and rapid humanitarian response.”
HSOT and RAF have a history of collaborating to deliver life-saving supplies to populations hit by disasters across the world and this type of initiative will further cement our relationship.
Palladium manages the implementation of the Humanitarian and Stabilisation Operations Team, a program funded with UK Aid from the British people. HSOT provides the UK government with capacity and specialist expertise to support effective responses to sudden-onset disasters, crises, and complex emergencies around the world. To learn more, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or follow HSOT on LinkedIn.