It had been two hours. A murder was overdue.
Jonathan Hall’s fingers clicked on the keys of his laptop.
Seconds later, American DSS Agent John Rambo lay bleeding on the pavement of the Boa Vista airport, his body tossed from the cockpit of the plane.
Hall smiled to himself. That should get things going just perfectly.
Two hours later, American and Colombian special forces stormed the hijacked plane.
Hall looked up from his keyboard on which he has just typed the news, grinning broadly as wild, prolonged cheers erupted from rooms around him.
Minutes later, around 40 tired but extremely satisfied students whooped and talked their way back into the room and sank into chairs, now alumni of the first ever ORU International Crisis Policy Simulation event.
The students had come on Saturday, March 26, to the Trustee’s Board Room on the sixth floor of the GC to take part in a simulated world crisis event. The event was headed up by government majors Jonathan Hall and David Snuffer, and public relations major Aaron Tifft.
As the students arrived, they were divided up into four teams representing the countries of America, Brazil, Venezuela, and Columbia. They were then presented with a press release stating, “Hijacked airliner lands in Boa Vista airport; hostages and terrorists onboard; tower reports no contact with cockpit,” and given objectives for resolving the situation.
The nations were divided into separate rooms, and for the next four hours, an international incident took place on the screens of their computers, on the whiteboards in the rooms, and in the halls as representatives met to negotiate.
Students kept us with changing events by means of a twitter feed assigned to each country, and a blog on which breaking news was posted by the leaders.
Some of the countries had conflicting objectives. Venezuela was ordered to embarrass the United States, while the US was instructed to shut Venezuela out of the process.
The simulation took on many of the aspects of a real-world crisis. Variables and unexpected complications, including cyber warfare, were rife.
Phillip Mills of the Venezuelan team said he was able to hack into the email system of all the other teams.
“Hacking the email system was mostly a stroke of luck,” said Mills. “Ben Steiger, one of the other members of my team, noticed that we had a very generic password and suggested we try it on the other teams gmail accounts. Within five minutes we had all of the objectives of every other team.”
The Venezuelan team found at the beginning of the simulation that the terrorists were Venezuelan. The team, although they had hostages on the plane, did not focus on rescuing them and instead began discrediting and undermining the other nations, particularly the US.
“We set our strategy to try and simultaneously curry favor with Brazil while lowering world opinion of the US,” said Mills. “I feel like the US played exactly into our hands by name calling Venezuela names, and by violating Brazil's national sovereignty.”
He rather enjoyed being one of the bad guys.
“In all, I would say my experience being on the "bad side" was amazing, as we got to think about perspectives from the other side, rather than as Americans like we normally would,” said Mills.
The tweet feed was alive with negotiations, pleas, and threats, headlines of breaking news in all caps and funny jabs at other nations.
“The US believes that Venezuela has a really pretty girl in their midst. She knows who she is,” was one memorable headline, as was the one that had brought so many cheers and ended the simulation, “HOSTAGES SAVED. AMERICAN AND COLOMBIAN FORCES STORM PLANE.”
The simulation was based on a real event that took place in Marseille, France on Dec. 24, 1994. Air France Flight 8969 was hijacked by the Armed Islamic Group at Algiers, three passengers killed, and the plane landed in the Marseille airport. The French special forces, the GIGN, quickly stormed the plane and killed the four hijackers. TIME magazine writer Thomas Sancton claimed it was "one of the most successful anti-terrorist operations in history."
The ORU teams may not have done quite so well. By the end of the simulation, ten Brazilian police, five Brazilian citizens, two Colombian citizens, and one American DSS Agent were dead.
There was no “correct answer” to the simulation, Hall explained. The teams had to function with the same amount of uncertainty as nations do in real world situations. Hall said he, Tifft and Snuffer made up the scenarios as they went along, playing it by ear according to how the teams responded.
Sitting in the “control room,” Dr. Wendy Shirk, faculty advisor for the event, got a front row seat to Tifft, Snuffer, and Hall’s reign of terror. Later, in the review session, she could hardly contain her excitement at how well it had gone off. She was not the only one, as to a man the participants expressed their enthusiasm and desire to return for future sessions.
Luke Grcich, member of the Venezuela team and participant of similar simulations, like MUN and OIL, said, “This is really an excellent experience. In model UN you are trying to build consensus, you are trying to find commonality, which makes sense in the context of the UN, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense in the context of something like this.”
Hall and Shirk believe this program will continue yearly and be a great thing for both the government department and the school.
"Currently," said Hall, "graduate programs almost exclusively do things like this. So to have any simulation gives us a huge advantage as undergraduate programs, and helps lots of different majors all across the university."
“Think about it,” said Hall, “this is the first year, and we packed out this room. So if in future years we get more people, we could even have different schools competing."
OIL and MUN, meet the new guy on the block.
By Melanie Wespetal
Watch video of the simulation: