NEWS | Oct. 1, 2018

Pacific Ocean Division Enhancing Partner Disaster Response Capabilities

By Ana Allen

KATHMANDU, Nepal -- The Pacific Ocean Division (POD) is engaging with strategic international partners to improve and enable partner disaster response capabilities.

POD participated in the United States Army Pacific (USARPAC) Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange (DREE), Sept. 25-28, in partnership with the Nepali Army and Nepal Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), in Kathmandu, Nepal, and attended by international participants from 14 countries, along with more than 300 civilian and military disaster response professionals.

The multilateral engagement was designed to enhance regional disaster preparedness across South Asia by validating and refining medical, engineering and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response (HA/DR) planning and execution methods, as well as exercising key scenarios with multinational, interagency and strategic stakeholders and partners.

Michael C. Gonzales, Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy Kathmandu, Nepal, provided remarks during the opening ceremony and gave an overview of the event's purpose. "Pacific Resilience 2018 aims to advance the disaster management skills and knowledge of all participants. Ultimately disasters are a reality that all of us must face. What we do in preparation for them and what we do in response to them, truly can mean life or death. Our goal with this program is to ensure the full array of responders, both uniformed and civilian, are optimally prepared to respond to disasters, and in doing so, to serve and protect our communities and our countries. Resiliency and capacity building are the pillars on which disaster management rest. Exercises like this DREE provide an opportunity for the government of Nepal to build on its disaster management capability, thus creating a more resilient and capable Nepal," Gonzales said.

Events also included facilitated dialogues on capabilities, lessons learned and policies through academic discussions, table-top and field training exercises, to include testing Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport's Disaster Response Plan, which is a pivotal transportation hub for equipment and aid transfer, as the country's only international airport.

Improving capabilities is important to the international community as the memory of the April 2015 Gorhka earthquake in Nepal, which registered at 7.8 magnitude and killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000, remains fresh. Additionally, studies have shown that the earthquake may have only been the beginning to an even greater earthquake yet to come.

Andrew Benziger, POD readiness and contingency operations division chief, attended the event and facilitated the tabletop exercise on an earthquake disaster scenario. According to Benziger, who has experience in real-world disaster response efforts, the discussions helped to shape participant responses during the follow-on field exercise.

Benziger also acted as observer facilitator during the field training exercise portion of the event. "My role was to provide participants a shared understanding of their roles in supporting disaster response. It's all about working together to enhance the unified response effort. In this scenario, Nepal activated their National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) following an earthquake. They rehearsed coordination within the government as well as with international civilian and military communities. During the exercise, I also provided suggestions and guidance, as well as asked key questions, prompting action and responses throughout the scenario," Benziger stated.

The desired end state is Nepal's enhanced ability to leverage vertical coordination within their own government, as well as a fully synchronized horizontal coordination with other military or civil organizations, both locally and with international partners working in support of response efforts.

"When you're dealing with a multilateral disaster response effort, where a number of other countries are involved, the exercise allows each country to simulate a multinational military coordination, within the center that's stood up and work through how they would respond to support Nepal in a real-life scenario. This is the time where the response partners work through how to manage the international and national civilian and military coordination efforts to maximize efficiencies and minimize loss of life," said Benziger.

Maj. Gen. Timothy M. McKeithen, deputy commander for the National Guard, USARPAC, also attended the training and emphasized the importance of establishing and maintaining strategic relationships before a disaster occurs.

"Let us not forget that a natural disaster can strike anytime, anywhere, and any place. Mother nature does not respect borders. This event has done an incredible job deconflicting the synchronization needed to support our nations," said McKeithen. "Multinational response has proven to be the most effective way to save lives when responding to crisis. By sharing our experiences, our expertise, techniques and best practices we all improve our ability to respond quickly and effectively, because ultimately this is about saving lives and minimizing human suffering in areas struck by disasters."

This isn't the first time POD has engaged with Nepal to build capacity in disaster response. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineer's Pacific arm has participated in previous exchanges with Nepal as early as 2011 and as recently as 2016, with feedback showing that the engagements helped Nepal build capabilities that proved valuable following natural disasters such as the 2015 earthquake.

A number of additional operations, activities and actions have also been conducted since 2016, with the most recent Nepal exchange taking place June 2018, as well as other senior leader engagement and geospatial information systems workshops in fiscal year 2017. Additionally, POD constructed and turned over the Tribhuvan International Airport Crash Fire and Rescue station in September 2015, a facility that enhances TIA first responder capacity.

"POD has been an enduring strategic partner with Nepal to advance humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR), in support of security cooperation and regional stability," said Benziger. "We've done a number of humanitarian assistance projects to assist Nepal with its infrastructure, like building a blood bank and tube water wells, along with helping them build disaster response plans and capabilities, which they continuously adapt and modify based on lessons learned in order to better respond to disasters. This current engagement is yet another example of our continued partnership to enhance the disaster resilience of our partner nations within the Indo-Pacific region." said Benziger.

The next iteration of Pacific Resilience is expected to occur in 2019, increasing engagement frequency from semi-annually to annually.

About POD:

POD provides sustainable and resilient engineering solutions, in collaboration with Indo-Asia-Pacific partners, to promote regional security, responsible development, and disaster risk reduction and response capabilities.