Over 7 years, Viv McWaters worked with member of World Vision’s Regional Disaster Management Team (RDMT) in SE Asia to help prepare them for the unexpected. The RDMT was set up to provide surge capacity in the event of disasters, hence many of the members were unfamiliar with disaster response. Applied improvisation was used as a means of giving them an improvisational mindset that would help them cope with the chaos and uncertainty of disaster response.

When disaster strikes, many people want to help. Annual training, especially with simulations, detailed procedures and protocols, all contributed to humanitarian workers’ ability and capacity to respond. However, it became clear that many people were technically skilled, but unable to cope emotionally with the shift to making decisions on the run, not having the back up of a ‘standard operating procedure’ and having to deal with the chaos and uncertainty that a disaster presents.

Applied improvisation was used to introduce the RDMT to the principles of improvising, and to build their capacity and confidence to be more spontaneous. Improvisation activities were used to help participants, many with little or no expose to improvisations and many with English as a second or third language, understand the improvisational mindset and to carry with them into uncertain situations, some key principles that would help them.

Subsequent interviews have revealed that some participants found the principles of Let Go and Use Everything to be particularly useful in the chaos of disaster response. On communicator, said that Let Go enabled him to ‘park’ his own emotional response to the devastation so that he could report what was happening. Another response manager said that the principle of Use Everything gave him ‘permission’ to do just that. He used whoever and whatever was at hand to get the job done.


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