NEWS | May 3, 2018

Pacific Partnership Leads Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Symposium in Sri Lanka

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Micah Blechner Pacific Partnership 2018 Public Affairs

TRINCOMALEE, Sri Lanka -- Soldiers and Coast Guardsmen participated in a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) symposium at the Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda Auditorium during a Pacific Partnership 2018 (PP18) mission stop on May 2 and 3.

The symposium's topics included disaster response and incident management systems, gender issues related to disaster response, marine pollution response and the dangers of flooding and landslides.

There are, on average, two massive disasters per year that require HA/DR response in the Indo Pacific. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, HA/DR operations have attracted the attention of the global community as a non-traditional security issue. Building capabilities, interoperability and a conceptual framework for participation in these operations has become paramount to the affected countries.

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral disaster response preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific. This year's mission includes military and civilian personnel from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Peru and Japan.

Army Capt. Dominic Basilio, currently assigned to Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) participating in PP18, worked hand-in-hand with Cmdr. Shylendra Jeewakaranthna, of the Sri Lankan Navy, to have presentations from military professionals and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) familiar with HA/DR contingencies.

"One of the key factors when it comes to HA/DR operations is to understand the capabilities of the Sri Lankan people and the Sri Lankan government as a whole," explained Basilio. "This way we can provide help in areas that are actually going to benefit those most in need."

Basilio went on to say HA/DR operations are very diverse. Describing how they are fluid and require a sense of flexibility from those providing aide.

"It isn't enough to simply provide a one-size-fits-all, blanket coverage when it comes to HA/DR," continued Basilio. "During symposiums like this, we are able to identify strengths and weaknesses from past incidents and attempt to discover new ways we can tailor HA/DR response for the future."

"Not only do [the Sri Lankan military/government] know what we can provide them, but we also have a better understanding of the resources that are available organically on-ground and the areas where we can provide aid when, not if, assistance is needed."

Marine Science Technician 1st Class Foster Robinson, of the Coast Guard, delivered a presentation covering environmental pollution response with an emphasis on oil spills and concerns when dealing with hazardous materials and chemicals.

"Every disaster is different," said Robinson. "By taking lessons learned from past operations, we are able to inform the way we can attack future disaster response engagements and deliver better, more robust aid."

PP18 personnel have visited and exchanged ideas with professionals in Bengkulu, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia prior to arriving in Trincomalee. After departing Sri Lanka, USNS Mercy will make mission stops in Vietnam and Japan strengthening alliances, partnerships and multilateral cooperation throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

Pacific Partnership 2018 consists of more than 800 U.S. and partner nation military and civilian personnel working side-by-side with host nation counterparts to be better prepared for potential humanitarian aid and disaster response situations.