News: Washington Guard works with Thai first responders
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
BANGKOK, Thailand — The National Guard's State Partnership Program pairs up Guardmembers from every state with foreign countries to provide mentorship and training, largely focusing on military training.
However, one state has been working with its partner country to build on another aspect unique to the Guard — domestic response.
Members of the Washington National Guard have worked with first responders from their partnership country, Thailand, to build on their skills in port security, fire fighting, search and rescue and command and control, said Maj. Wil Johnston, director of the Washington Guard's State Partnership Program.
"The intent is to build their capacity to respond to a potential disaster that may or may not involve hazardous materials at the port," he said. Then they can respond with fire fighting, medical response and command and control components.
Members of the Washington Guard normally visit Thailand several times a year to conduct this training, which culminates in a full-scale field training exercise.
However, the goal is to sustain the training program within Thailand. That comes about by training the trainers there, said Johnston, who added that the aim is to simply be in an advisory status within two years and have the training conducted solely by Thai officials.
Already, the training that has been provided has had positive benefits. A recent event in Bangkok brought out emergency response teams from the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, Thailand's equivalent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, who brought with them skills on operating in confined spaces.
"We actually used the knowledge that we have from the training just [a few] days ago when a building collapsed at the construction site of a new major cinema complex," said Ruamporn Kerdlarbpol, a senior plans and policy officer with DDPM, through an interpreter. "A couple of people were trapped inside the building, and we sent our emergency response teams to the scene.
"Without the knowledge that we gained from Washington National Guard helping us with the training, we wouldn't have been able to do the job properly and as easily as we did."
Thailand's emergency response teams were first formed two years ago, said Kerdlarbpol.
"We will be needing more techniques and expertise to help build the capacity of these ERTs to be much better," she said. "We are looking to get more techniques in search and rescue, so we try and build our capacity based on our cooperation with the Washington National Guard."
And while the ERTs have a similar role as the National Guard's response to a similar disaster, there are differences.
"The complexity comes, because their organizational structure doesn't necessarily mirror ours," said Johnston. "So, who works for who may not be immediately clear."
One of the ways around that complexity is to provide a system of response and command and control that is the same across the country, said Johnston.
Much of the recent training has been with fire fighters and port officials at the port of Laem Chabang, located about 100 miles south of Bangkok. It has stirred interest with other agencies within Thailand.
"The port of Bangkok is now very interested in seeing what the port of Laem Chabang is doing," said Johnston. "They can then mirror that and eventually that will grow throughout the Marine Department [which oversees both ports] and then throughout all of Thailand. Then there will be standard operating procedures."
But that's not as easy as it sounds, especially when it comes to command and control.
"Obviously, the command and control piece of it is very broad," said Johnston. "It's [keeping] the media [informed], it's crowd control, and it's using the [Incident Command System]. That's the complex part, whereas [training on fire fighting and search and rescue techniques] is pretty straight forward."
But it is all starting to come together.
"They're doing a great job with the fire fighting and they're doing a good job with the port security, but it's been a long time coming," said Johnston.