Humanitarian Crisis Simulation

The Humanitarian Crisis Simulation is an immersive learning experience where participants play the role of humanitarian aid workers or volunteer responders in a simulated international humanitarian crisis. Participants learn the foundations of humanitarian response, and apply concepts in the simulation through active teamwork, intense interaction with role-players, and on-the-spot decision-making.

Group being briefed by leaders under a tent

This 48-hour learning experience is relevant to professionals and graduate students of all backgrounds, and aims to prepare learners to work or volunteer in a humanitarian crisis; assess their personal career alignment with humanitarian aid work; and to develop a greater understanding of the refugee experience.


  • Pre-simulation resources and during-simulation skills-stations advance learners' knowledge of: humanitarian standards; humanitarian law and human rights; water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH); food security and nutrition; shelter and settlement; health; rapid assessment of disaster; safety and security; disaster behavioral health, and more.
  • Learners are divided into interdisciplinary multiple emergency response teams (ERTs) responding to a simulated international humanitarian crisis where they apply skills and knowledge to assess a fictional area experiencing a humanitarian crisis.
  • Each team develops a plan to address the issues present such as infrastructure, health, nutrition, insecurity, and human rights.
  • Participants experience what it is like to live and work in an insecure environment and with living conditions common for professionals working in humanitarian response environments.

May 2021
Hudson, Wisconsin

The May 2020 Simulation has been canceled. We hope you can join us in 2021.

Contact Information

Humanitarian Simulation Details

Instructors & Partners

The Humanitarian Simulation was founded in 2011 and has advanced through the involvement of numerous instructors, partners, and volunteers through its previous offerings.


Course Director: Sarah Kesler, MD, CTropMed® – Dr. Kesler is an assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep medicine. Dr. Kesler worked regularly with Médecins Sans Frontières between 2005 and 2011. She has experience in managing medical operations in humanitarian crises, as well as epidemics and malnutrition emergencies.

Co-Director: Eric James, PhD - Dr. James is the executive director of Field Ready. Dr. James has worked for over 20 years in response to humanitarian emergencies worldwide. He has taught extensively on the issues related to aid, management and policy. He is author of many academic articles and widely used book, Managing Humanitarian Relief: An Operational Guide for NGOs (Second edition, 2017).

Faculty: Len Kne,  GISP, Director of U-Spatial which provides support for spatial research at the University of Minnesota. He is the faculty lead for the GIS/Crisis Mapping emphasis track of the simulation.

Faculty: Rebecca Wurtz, MD, MPH, Director, Public Health Administration and Policy (PHAP) and E-PHAP MPH Programs University of Minnesota School of Public Health and is faculty for the PubH credit track of the simulation.

Faculty: Shailey Prasad, MD, MPH, is Executive Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility and Vice Chair for Education at the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

Faculty:  Brett Hendel-Paterson, MD, Dr. Hendel Paterson is the director of the University of Minnesota Global Medicine Pathway and a co-director for the University of Minnesota Global Health Course. He is a clinician educator and practices hospital medicine and palliative care at HealthPartners Regions Hospital in St. Paul Minnesota. He also works at the HealthPartners Tropical Medicine and Travel Clinic. 


Planning Partners


Additional facilitators come from the following organizations: Minnesota Department of Health, Center for Disease Control, Americares, University of Iowa, Manitoba University, Center for International Health, Doctors Without Borders, Regions Hospital, Footprint, and more

Schedule & Program Details

Prior to Simulation weekend

All learners will be required to complete course readings and approximately 6 hours of online lectures. Online Content Topics: 

  • Rapid Needs Assessment
  • Humanitarianism 
  • Core Humanitarianism Standards and Sphere Center
  • Humanitarian Sectors: Health, WASH, Nutrition, Shelter
  • Reducing Stress in a Humanitarian Crisis 
  • Psychological First Aid and Self Care
  • Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
  • Personal Security 


  • 3:30 Check-in Opens
  • 4:00 pm: Simulation Orientation
  • Formation of Emergency Response Teams (ERTs) 
  • Secondary Data Review
  • Simulation begins


Apply concepts in simulated humanitarian crisis involving dozens of role players. Practical exercises and skills stations include: 

  • Coordination meetings
  • Clinical medicine in low resource settings
  • Assessment of local health care facility
  • WASH management
  • Nutrition and food security scenarios
  • Assessment of shelter needs
  • Human rights abuse management; contact tracing
  • Collaboration with Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Situational Awareness
  • Leadership and team building exercises
  • Epidemiology 
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Media interaction
  • Logistics and supply management
  • Epidemiologic assessment


  • Simulation continues through mid morning
  • Team proposals
  • Debriefing
  • 4:00 pm: Departure

Additional class sessions and requirements exist for learners seeking academic credit under PubH 6719. See the Academic Credit Tab for details.

Learning Objective and More Details

View the Program Details Document


This course takes place in an outdoor setting and will be conducted through inclement weather. Students should come prepared to be outdoors for most or all of the simulation. All learners are required to stay overnight for both nights, and remain at camp through the full duration of the simulation. Meals and accommodation are included in your registration.

Participants sleep overnight in unheated cabin without electricity or running water with up to twelve people. Cots are provided, but participants provide their own bedding.

Basic meals (from Friday dinner through Sunday lunch) are provided. Meals are intended to represent a realistic crisis situation and include MREs and grab-and-go options. Vegetarian, vegan options, gluten free options will be available, but we are unable to accommodate complex special meal requests. You are welcome to bring food if you have special dietary concerns.

The simulation grounds and environment will be constructed to simulate a realistic crisis situation. Learners have limited access to electricity, cell phones, and running water. There is no access to shower facilities.

Transportation to the simulation site must be arranged by the student. Camp is approximately 45 minutes from both the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus and the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. We will help facilitate making connections for carpooling.

What to Bring
A full packing list will be provided upon registration, and includes items such as sleeping bag, flashlight, water bottle, camp chair, layered clothing for varying weather conditions (e.g., rain/snow, sunshine/cloudy, warm/cold).

Cell Phones
Participants will not have access to personal cell phones and during the simulation, but will be able to be contacted in the case of an emergency.

Disability Accommodation
Contact regarding requests for disability accommodation


Who is eligible to attend?

  • Those who are engaged in, or considering a career or volunteer role in humanitarian crisis situations.
  • Those presently working or volunteering with refugees or immigrants.
  • Health professionals such as physicians, nurse practitioners, physician Assistants, nurses, pharmacists, mental health workers, and other health care providers who are considering working as humanitarian aid workers.
  • Non-health professionals such as first responders, teachers, social workers, religious leaders, and program administrators.
  • Graduate and professional students, from any discipline.
  • Upper-level undergraduates may be eligible with instructor permission.


Academic Credit

Academic credit will be available to UMN graduate students under PubH 6719 (1 credit in Spring Semester). It is up to the student to confer with their academic unit to determine if it meets their specific program requirements. Upper-level undergraduates may be eligible with instructor permission. There are additional requirements and processes for students seeking credit:

  • Students planning to register for credit under PubH 6719 will first register for the simulation. There is a fee of $250 for this registration to cover costs associated with the simulation such as accommodation, food, etc.
  • Students will then receive a permission number to register for PubH 6719
  • Requirements for PubH 6719 beyond the expectations for the Simulation participation include:
    • Tuesday, May 19, 2020, 5:40 - 7:30 pm - Post Simulation Class Session, East Bank, Minneapolis (remote access will be available for participants that live outside the twin-cities)
    • Tuesday, May 26, 2020 - Papers due
  • PubH 6719 Syllabus


Optional GIS/Crisis Mapping Emphasis

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, disease outbreaks, conflict - all of these types of crises have benefited from humanitarian mapping during the last ten years. Advances in open source GIS software, open data, volunteered geographic information, and social networks allow individuals and groups to participate in humanitarian crisis response on the ground and at home. Information communication technology such as smartphones/tablets, GPS units, drones, cellular networks, and ultraportable laptops allow responders to map data in the field and immediately share it with others. Those responders willing to help from afar may use tools such as OpenStreetMap, Quantum GIS, the Ushaidi Platform, Epi Info, or Google Crisis Response to map critical infrastructure. These data can be accessed by field responders in real-time to facilitate and coordinate humanitarian response.

As part of this simulation, there will be a GIS team embedded in the simulation to support the data needs of the participants. These students will be immersed in a fast paced environment and need to provide maps, spatial analysis, and disseminate information.  Students do not need experience with humanitarian response work, but should have basic GIS skills. Students will need to register for both the simulation (with associated fees) and the PubH 6290 (1 credit) course. For more information about the GIS component of the simulation, contact Len Kne at

Credit for non-degree seeking students

Participants that are not enrolled at the University of Minnesota can request graduate credit. See this form and contact for further instructions.

Costs & Registration

2020 Professional Rate
(No academic credit)


2020 Non-credit Student & Resident Rate
(No academic credit. Non-UMN students & residents will be required to provide evidence of enrollment from their academic institution for Spring 2020 semester.)

2020 Student Rate for UMN students also registering for academic credit as PubH 6719, including GIS/Crisis Mapping Emphasis (1 credit; Spring 2020)

$250 plus tuition* for PubH 6719


Fees cover accommodation, food, instructions, and most supplies.

The 2020 Simulation has been canceled.

* More details about Tuition Rates

For students registering for academic credit as PubH 6719, tuition rates vary by program:

  • If you pay a flat rate per semester for tuition, you may not be charged additional tuition if you are under the max number of credits permitted for Spring semester
  • If you pay by the credit, your rate for tuition will be your cost for 1 credit for Spring semester
  • All tuition is billed through your UMN student account
  • More details about tuition rates on Onestop

Group Discounts

Group discounts available for organizations or academic institutions wishing to a group of 5 or more participants.

Volunteer Registration

Information about volunteering and volunteer registration is available on the Volunteer Page.



Many volunteers and subject matter experts are needed as we transform Camp St Croix into a patchwork of simulated refugee camps. Volunteers are needed as Role Players for a variety of personas and to provide administrative and logistical support.  Experienced professionals join the facilitation team to advance aspects of the scenario and expand the learning opportunities and potential audience.


Related Opportunities

These other opportunities occur on the UMN campus the weeks before/after the simulation, enabling out-of-town participants to bundle multiple training opportunities together during a visit to Minnesota. Discount available on Humanitarian Crisis Simulation Professional-rate registration if also registered for one of the following. Contact for details.


In-Person Global Health Course | May, 2020

This four-week course, hosted by the University of Minnesota Global Medicine, provides intensive training ideal for healthcare providers who serves a global mobile population, such as immigrants, refugees or international travelers. Participants can register by the week, or for the full experience.

Public Health Institute | May -June, 2020

The Summer Public Health Institute, hosted by the School of Public Health, offers week-long courses for students and practice professionals in public health and related fields. Courses are intensive, highly interactive and application-based with opportunities for field trips, case studies, hands-on labs, and simulations. Interest areas include Global Health, Public Health Practice, and more.