Millions of years ago the Isle of Arran was the home to one of Britain's largest volcanoes, but it is now set to be 'revived' for a simulated eruption and evacuation.

Disaster mapping volunteers, the coast guard and Red Cross volunteers are expected to flock to the neighbouring Isle of Cumbrae, also often called Millport by its main town, from May 19 to 21.

The peaceful island will be transformed into an emergency operation centre by disaster mapping agency MapAction as volunteers act out a humanitarian response to imagined lava flowing down the steep slopes on the Isle of Arran.

The organisation has sent volunteers to more than 100 crisis-stricken areas to support relief agencies in evacuation and disaster response scenarios.

Scottish-born Andrew Kesterton is one of the volunteers taking part in the simulation which has been dubbed ‘Gilded Unicorn’.

Explaining why mapping experts are vital in disaster response, he said: “If you imagine if there was an earthquake in Scotland tomorrow and you’re trying to help people.

“You must ask where have the houses been damaged by the event? Where are the people needing shelter? Where do you send the tents? How do you answer that question to get them in the right place?

It’s really trying to give the people making these decisions the information they need and to try and help organise it as well.”

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MapAction regularly deploys teams last minute at the request of UN disaster agencies or international relief agencies across the globe.

In the past few months, Mr Kesterton has joined MapAction teams supporting people affected by floods and landslides in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as travelling to Turkiye in February after an earthquake killed more than 50,000 people.

The Herald: MapAction humanitarian mapper Alice Goudie shows a map-wall to a UN worker in Gaziantep in February 2023 in response to the earthquakes in Turkiye and SyriaMapAction humanitarian mapper Alice Goudie shows a map-wall to a UN worker in Gaziantep in February 2023 in response to the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria (Image: MapAction)

The simulations help ensure the teams can be “effective from getting off the plane”, the volunteer added.

It also prepares third-party stakeholders for the key stages of any disaster response and considerations in emergency scenarios.

While there role-playing will be an important factor of the stimulation, Mr Macbeth says the three days are “quite serious” as volunteers work to compress as much practice into a few short days.

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“The key to a successful simulation exercise is enabling participants to enter fully into the scenario and, to a certain extent, suspend disbelief,” said Laurence Knoop, a humanitarian training consultant who is coordinating ‘Gilded Unicorn’.

“Without a full Hollywood set, there is always the voice in people’s minds that says: ‘But we’re still at home in the UK.’ So a few simple hooks are used to engage the imagination.

“Very little information is shared with the team before the exercise starts; as is typical for a disaster response they might only have a couple of situation reports and the baseline geographical data for the affected area.

“Once the exercise starts, the team remains ‘in scenario’ for two days, with no breaks and no foresight of what will happen next.”

The Herald:

Mr Kesterton, who has volunteered for MapAction for nearly a decade, said mapping helps ensure aid is directed towards the area and people who need it the most.

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Just like in real emergencies, the team will begin the training with limited information about the situation on the ground.

“One of the big challenges is that it's always a little bit chaotic in these situations when you arrive and you’ve got to try and understand what’s going on,” he said.

For the sake of the exercise, many regions will revert to their historic names, whether Celtic, Latin or Anglo-Saxon, to help create a ‘country’ which is suitable for the areas where volunteers may be deployed in the future.

During the three days, Scotland will temporarily become Scotia, the North West of England will be redubbed Rheged while the North East of England will be referred to as Beornice.

However, local landmarks and environmental attributes of the area will be key in ensuring the exercise is realistic.

The Isle of Arran’s Lamlash Bay no-take zone, a marine protected area where fishing is banned, will be used as an example of the humanitarian risk of relocating people to areas where food security could exacerbate any existing crisis.

Mr Knoop added: “Bringing our team of volunteers to the Isle of Cumbrae incorporates an expeditionary element into the exercise and allows the scenario to draw on some unique local geographical features: namely the eruption of a (now extinct) volcano on the nearby Isle of Arran and the logistical challenges of a humanitarian response across a number of islands and the Kintyre peninsula.”