WELLINGTON, New Zealand – U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) Contingency Command Post soldiers participated in a disaster management planning exercise in partnership with the New Zealand Defence Force and members of NZ Civil Defence, Sept. 25-26.
The exercise focused on increasing interoperability between civil and military organizations in support of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief operations by building on existing response capabilities and understanding how New Zealand and U.S. forces can work together.
The Contingency Command Post is a flexible, tailorable and rapidly deployable unit that specializes in disaster management, humanitarian crises and small scale contingency operations. The CCP is able to field specially tailored Humanitarian Assistance Survey Teams to provide real-time assessments to USARPAC and Pacific Command during a disaster.
HASTs are composed of soldiers with numerous expertise including logistics, legal, intelligence, operations, aviation and more, similar to advisor teams that the U.S. has fielded around the world.
In case of an actual disaster, the assessments provided by members of a HAST or Deployable Joint Inter-agency Task Force give military and government agencies crucial information such as the type of response needed and the best way to provide that response.
During the exercise, soldiers of the CCP worked side-by-side with members of New Zealand’s Headquarters DJIATF and New Zealand’s Civil Defence. The DJIATF is in many ways similar to the CCP by serving as a rapidly deployable force, providing operational control and responding to small scale contingencies. New Zealand’s Civil Defence organization operates similarly to the U.S.’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Col. Thomas Kunk, CCP chief of staff, emphasized the flexible nature of the CCP and its ability to support a variety of missions and utilize various methods to accomplish those missions.
“We leverage a lot of technology along with the expertise and skill sets of our soldiers,” he said. “The emphasis is on joint exercises and working together,” he said. “We brought a mixture of soldiers, including those new to the unit so everyone could get that experience as well as a chance to see New Zealand.”
The exercise included a tour of the New Zealand Parliament and the government Emergency Operations Center, sharing of CCP and DJIATF capabilities and joint assessments by the CCP and DJIATF to assess critical needs during a potential disaster.
Wellington served as a uniquely fitting place to host a disaster planning and management exercise due to the fact that several fault lines run through it. These fault lines make the area particularly vulnerable to a potentially disastrous earthquake.
Bruce Pepperell, the regional manager of the Wellington Region Emergency Management Office, noted that his office shared similarities with the CCP and DJIATF.
“Eighty percent of what we do is the same … leadership, strategic, planning and customer focus. Ninety nine percent of the time we don’t have an emergency, but the reality is every day we have utility outages, floods and storms,” he said.
Pepperell emphasized Wellington’s vulnerabilities in the event of a severe earthquake. According to Pepperell, seaports, airports and road access to many areas would be cut off and could take months to restore. The city government in Wellington is however currently working on creating alternate roadways.
Pepperell said it was important for civil and military organizations to work together and be aware of each other’s capabilities during a disaster.
“There are a lot of people with some great capability out there and the idea is to understand how you can tap into x, y and z and bring it all together,” Pepperell said.
Maj. David Thorsen, operations officer for the DJIATF said the key benefit of this exercise was getting to know each other and having an opportunity to work together.
“We are two different organizations but we use similar structures. We have shared experiences and shared systems so we can fit in pretty quickly,” he said.
“There would be a lot of benefit for future exercises for us and the CCP to work together. I think we’re at the early stages right now but in the future I could certainly see us working together at expanded levels,” he said.