Young people try out an emergency exercise

18 March 2010

Swine flu, terrorist attacks and extreme weather have all been the subject of government preparedness exercises, but few people know what is involved in planning for emergencies. This will be the starting point of a simulation exercise for young people, to be held in a nuclear bunker in Sussex on March 18 as part of the Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Festival of Social Science.

Wearing neutral half masks (used to conceal facial expressions of the participants), the group will take part in a tabletop exercise designed to explore the questions that arise in planning for an emergency, and the kind of decisions that have to be taken.

"The idea is to convey the idea that these decisions are taken by well-meaning, faceless professionals doing their jobs," explains Ms Namita Chakrabarty, University of East London, who is organising and leading the event. "People complain about how the government handles the risk of epidemics, bomb attacks and flooding but they seldom understand the planning and communication processes involved."

The event will bring together techniques drawn from Ms Chakrabarty's background in performance, work in community arts and creative writing, as well as from her current research on civil defence pedagogies, how the general public learn to be prepared for emergency situations. Her research has involved observing many preparedness exercises.

"The programme will include a two-hour workshop to find out what we mean by 'an emergency', and will include preliminary work with a mask artist, Paola Cavallin, who trained in the Italian tradition of commedia dell arte, to explore the performance of the professional using the mask. The tabletop exercise and early-evening performance session will take place in an iconic location where planning for emergencies takes place in real life," she says. "The group will go through various decisions making improvised dialogue, from 'Day One,' to 'Day Three' of an imaginary scenario, just like the professionals. It's about staging a performance that is in itself a rehearsal."

"I think this is the first time that this type of performance exercise including young people has been attempted in this way. The emergency preparedness industry is an important growth sector and I hope our event will make young people more aware of these job opportunities and the work of preparedness," Namita Chakrabarty comments.

Although the Emergency Exercise 2010 event will be attended by only 20 people, including drama students and MA students of emergency planning, it will be made available to a wider audience through the Internet. A blog will begin at 6pm when participants can express their thoughts and perceptions about key terms. The tabletop simulation will be filmed and will go live at the end of the week along with the participants' reflections on the experience.

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Notes for editors

  1. Emergency Exercise 2010
    • Organiser: Namita Chakrabarty, University of East London
    • Venue: 'A nuclear bunker', West Sussex.
  2. Namita Chakrabarty is Senior Lecturer at the Cass School of Education, University of East London. The Emergency Exercise 2010 website will go live by 25 March.
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council which runs from 12 to 21 March 2010, alongside National Science and Engineering Week. Events from some of the country's leading social scientists the festival celebrates the very best of British Social Science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The Festival of Social Science provides insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The Festival of Social Science is aimed at a range of different audiences, including policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website
  4. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
  5. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter (@ESRC), including new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more.