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U.S., China Participate in Disaster Management Exchange in Portland

By Maj. Lindsey Elder | 8th Theater Sustainment Command | Nov. 15, 2017

PORTLAND, Oregon -- Senior leaders with U.S. Army Pacific, the People's Liberation Army and representatives from various disaster management agencies participated in an expert academic discussion (EAD) during the 13th iteration U.S.- China Disaster Management Exchange (DME) Nov. 13-14 in Portland, Ore.

The EAD is the starting event of the overall DME, which also includes a Table Top Exchange (TTE), and a Practical Field Exchange (PFE). The 2017 exchange focuses on a notional international flooding scenario in which both armies will be requested to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to an impacted nation as part of a Multinational Coordination Center (MNCC).

The EAD featured two days of briefings on topics varying from flood mitigation and flood control engineering in each country, to the best use of social media and other technologies for the most effective disaster response.

The Indo-Asia-Pacific remains the most natural disaster-prone region of the world. As such, participants often had personal lessons learned from real-world responses to regional natural disasters for shared learning in the discussion. Examples included the PLA’s August 2017 response in Macau after Typhoon Hato, the worst storm to reach its shores in more than half a century, and the U.S. civil and military responses to devastating Hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, and Maria over the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.

In real world disaster response, information and communication technologies can help disaster managers quickly access, contextualize, and apply near real-time information, improving the speed and effectiveness of critical actions like warning populations at risk.

Dr. Erin Hughey of the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC), an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii, provided an overview of the center’s innovative, global multi-hazard disaster monitoring, early warning, and decision support systems that could help both armies. She also highlighted opportunities where information and resource sharing for modeling and mapping technologies could aid in future response efforts.

A highlight of this year’s DME is the inclusion of the Pacific Disaster Center’s web-accessible DisasterAWARE system playing a major role in the TTE. Used as part of the MNCC response, upon invitation the scenario’s international community will provide assistance to a country following a flooding disaster. All parties contribute to the MNCC, a platform to synchronize U.S.-Chinese military efforts in this notional assistance.

Experts from agencies like U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the PLA provided briefings on a variety of response aspects all with a common theme for effective disaster responses: no one does it alone.

Both countries understand the best disaster response involves a great deal of planning, monitoring of environmental trends, and periodic training and rehearsals. This can involve events like the DME itself, flood drills in communities, and testing systems like the emergency broadcast system to ensure the public understands what notifications will look like during a real-world emergency.

Both nations also understand the importance for preparation and rehearsals prior to disasters occurring in order to save lives and reduce the risk to communities and property.

“Disaster management is an area where regional cooperation has had, and can have positive benefits for all,” said Maj. Gen. Susan A. Davidson, the Commanding General of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, and the head of the U.S. delegation hosting the DME on behalf of U.S. Army Pacific.

“The multinational coordination center provides a structure and framework that reduces inter-agency and international frictions in conducting multi-lateral disaster relief operations. To make the framework effective, we must continually assess our progress on disaster preparedness and identify opportunities to support each other.”

In addition to USARPAC and the 8th Theater Sustainment Command, participants included the Oregon National Guard, the U.S Coast Guard Sector Columbia River, the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Northwestern Division, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Portland District.

Participants expressed that the exchange was successful and beneficial, with both nations learning how to better work together with supporting civilian agencies in the face of tragedy.

Starting in 2005, the DME has been held at locations in Hawaii, Washington, D.C., New York, Washington and multiple areas in China. The DME has also matured from basic visits and briefings into a substantive exchange that uses table top and practical field exchanges to focus and facilitate interaction and develop the capacity to de-conflict HA/DR operations between the U.S. Army and the PLA.
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