Sophia Carrillo, United States of America

One of the highlights of The Hague Symposium is the immense breadth of experience the speakers divulge during topic lectures, translating to an incredible opportunity to glean best practices and policies from experienced field practitioners and theorists.  This Friday’s lecture on Transitional Stabilization was no exception. Justin Richmond of Palantir Technologies led a disaster relief simulation modeled after the response to the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that struck The Philippines on November 8, 2013. Richmond shared his expertise having served both in the U.S. military and as a Truman National Security Fellow, which helped guide our perception of the first initial steps and long term planning for post-disaster relief.

While preparing a transitional stabilization plan for the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record may seem overwhelming, the overview of best guidelines and frameworks, peppered with real-life stories and tips from the field, readied our groups to provide our best efforts to organize, coordinate, and collaborate cross-sectorally. The Hague Symposium was split into five aid sectors: Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), Health, Food and Security, Livelihoods, and Shelter. Each sector was charged with creating and implementing a three-phase plan to progress towards regional stability. The simulation was interrupted by real time updates and data releases, forcing flexibility between the sectors while contributing to the larger goal of stabilization. As our impact indicators evolved from the preliminary planning, we worked to ensure our suggested policies and actions combat everything from water insecurity to emerging political issues.

The most beneficial aspect of the simulation was collaborating with specialized groups consisting of individuals with various levels of applicable field experience. I enjoyed hearing my classmate’s experiences in East Timor and other individuals with field experience relay what their stories from their respective fields. I often reflected on the lessons learned from my experience in bi-national relations and strategic management.  The sharing of experiences in this exercise, as in all our class work, has been a very beneficial aspect of the symposium.

Regardless of our cumulative experiences, we still faced a strategic uphill battle. A lesson everyone faced was the reiterated importance of focusing on a long-term, local solution. Although equipped with advice and the best intentions of securing stability, during the simulation we faced pressures of addressing competing policy proposals, leadership styles, and reacting to unanticipated consequences of other group’s decisions. Pressure abound, it became too easy to revert to preparing a string of sound disaster relief policies and creating temporary aid programs for implementation. During the first round, my sector, the Health Group, was excitedly discussing the fantastic health programs we planned to implement, until we stumbled upon the realization that as we were still in the first month of the simulation, the needs of the community would be more reactionary. Our focus on programming was the incorrect approach. No matter how much thought focused on these feel-good aid programs, they were not rooted in local need nor did they address the systemic needs. Ultimately, the simulation demonstrated that for local resiliency to take place, the planning must be sustainable, legitimate, and effective activities that specifically targeted and aimed to mitigate local systemic causes.

As we made mistakes, reacted to the faux news reports, and collaborated with other groups, crunching each other’s data, we learned through practice to avoid programming based on assumptions, ignoring the local perspective, failing to establish a functionality baseline, not monitoring your progress, and not working holistically across sectors. In short, in a day we implemented lessons learned to compile a logical framework for field implementation.

The most distinguished lesson of the day was realized during our simulation that for a successful transitional stabilization, local resiliency and functionality setup for success after aid groups leave is key.  Although impressive metrics of aid distributed and supplies on the ground, the indicator of a successful transition from disaster relief to peace and stability can only be found in the resiliency of the affected society.