Major Paul Lodge and Captain Chris Willett are both reservist members of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG). In their civilian jobs, Paul is a Project Manager and Chris is a Police Officer. For two weeks, they are deployed on Exercise Civil Bridge, an MSSG overseas training exercise which this year is taking place in Jakarta – the first joint exercise of its kind to involve the British and Indonesian Army.
We are now into Day 3 of the main part of Exercise Civil Bridge (ExCB14A) and we’ve had a fascinating experience so far. The training and flood preparedness assessment are going well and we were asked to support the Embassy Defence team at the annual British Embassy Queen’s Birthday Party last night.
The teams that have been deploying on the ground have been making excellent progress with getting a first-hand look at the ways in which Jakarta is prepared for future floods. This has involved the joint MSSG/Indonesian Army (TNI-AD) teams coordinating meetings with key players involved in managing the floods, visiting these people and seeing the infrastructure that is in place to either combat the flood water or mitigate its impact on lives and livelihoods.
The way in which we are recording our observations is by means of the GeoDash tool from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). As well as providing us with real-time mapping, location and messaging services, it allows for the creation of question sets that can be accessed and used by all. We developed a standard question set during the preparatory phase of the exercise to cover all elements of the Jakarta flood response plans. The key subject areas include:
- resources allocated to flood defence and clean up
- communication systems available to inform both flood response teams and citizens
- evacuation, medical planning and response
- questions around lessons learned and future risks.
The teams are conducting the interviews with a TNI-AD interpreter using this question set as a guide, while other team members record the responses directly onto the application via the tablets that have been issued to each sub-team. Images and video footage from the mobile devices – we are trialling both iOS and Android platforms – can be added directly to the text and then published to GeoDash. As soon as the survey is published, this information is made available to all members of the all-informed net and is location-tagged on our mapping. This allows the Ops Room, or any other member of the team, to interrogate specific points on the map and see what data has been collected there – rather like clicking on a restaurant review on Google Maps!
As a result of our extensive use of this platform, we are working with the team at DSTL to suggest improvements and new ways of working with the kit. This will support the broader work of the MSSG and other teams within the Security Assistance Group (SAG).
Flooding a fact of life
So far the teams have visited mayors’ offices, police stations, medical facilities and flood defence infrastructure (both existing and some under construction). Here the local Mayors have real responsibilities in terms of managing district finances and services, unlike the more ceremonial role that most mayors have back in the UK – and the police are one of the lead agencies in a flood. This is providing us with the overriding impression that flooding is simply a fact of life for most Jakartans and they are prepared and conditioned to deal with it. However, we are also finding areas where, with a little bit of investment, the response could be further improved.
The time spent on the ground has been invaluable in building relationships between our team and our TNI-AD colleagues. We are relying on them to set up and facilitate the meetings to provide the interpreters. In turn, they are learning about the UK approach to Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Recovery (HADR) and getting a good understanding of some of our technology by using the kit on the ground and in the Ops Room.
In parallel with the assessment work in the field, we are also delivering the second of three comprehensive training packages in stabilisation and HADR. These have covered the full spectrum of our work from consent-winning activity, through use of interpreters to negotiation skills. This package has also been supported by some excellent guest speakers, including members of the British Council based here in Jakarta. The TNI-AD cohort have been hugely enthusiastic throughout the training and have been working out of hours to support their own colleagues with less English language capabilities.
Outside our day-to-day work, we have been constantly exposed to the life of the city by the TNI-AD, members of the Embassy staff and the people that we have met on the ground. Everyone has been incredibly warm and friendly and it seems that wherever you go you are offered something new and interesting to eat, generally involving lively amounts of chilli.
Networking and business at the Queen’s Birthday Party
As part of this process we were asked by the Embassy team to help support British engagement in Indonesia by joining their staff team at the Queen’s Birthday Party last night.
The Queen’s Birthday Party is one of the major events in the Embassy calendar and is an opportunity to promote UK trade and investment into the region. As a result, many well-known British brands were represented, and all Embassy staff were expected to be on hand to support and promote the close working relationship between the UK and Indonesia.
It was an excellent opportunity for us, as team, to network within the disaster management community in Jakarta. For instance, we were able to meet with a small Australian team who have a permanent Disaster Reduction team in Indonesia, the Australian–Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR). We were also able to meet with other members of the Indonesian military and police, who provided us with advice and guidance on how we could gather additional information to support our work here.
Looking ahead to the next couple of days, we will be continuing to conduct our data collection activities and, hopefully, be able to continue developing our cultural understanding of the area, including a visit to the nearby Commonwealth War Cemetery.
We will be posting regularly throughout the exercise and will look to give you a flavour of all of the elements of our work via this blog.