DHAKA, Bangladesh – What would happen if a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near a major population center causing buildings to collapse with roads blocked by debris, communications systems down all while the power is out, and thousands are dead with potentially thousands more are injured and possibly trapped?
That is precisely what more than 160 U.S. and Bangladeshi military and civilian subject matter experts and disaster management and relief key responders came together to answer during the third annual Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The U.S. Army Pacific Contingency Command Post’s Humanitarian Assistance Survey Team participated in the exercise.
The Contingency Command Post is a flexible, and rapidly deployable unit that is specifically tailored to specialize in disasters and humanitarian crises. The CCP’s HASTs provide boots-on-ground, real-time assessments interfacing with their military and civilian counterparts in foreign countries and providing valuable feedback and valuable information to U.S. Army Pacific headquarters.
After two days of table-top exercises and discussion, the event culminated with a field training exercise simulating events occurring 120 hours after a massive earthquake has hit near Dhaka.
As the day progressed, participants received updates on the status of the disaster which they had to react to, such as debris in roads blocking emergency vehicles, a damaged air traffic control tower at the international airport and an aftershock hitting the city.
Military and civilian subject matter experts discussed these issues, and worked together to decide on the best course of action to take. Members of the CCP’s HAST also visited local hospitals, water and sewage treatment plants and evaluated critical transportation routes.
Lt. Col. Mohammad Tawhid-Ul-Islam of the Bangladesh Armed Forces Division, who served as a moderator for the exercise and exchange, said, “The main focus of the DREE is the field exercise. They are seeing and feeling now, and from seeing and feeling…learning.”
Master Sgt. Dwain Johns, sustainment non-commissioned officer in charge with the U.S. Army Pacific CCP, who assessed a helicopter landing zone at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka, said that exercises like this show the CCP’s true capabilities.
“The point of the exercise isn’t just to paint a pretty picture,” Johns said.
“The bottom line is on an exercise like this you find out where the gaps in capabilities are and what the areas are you need to work on. It’s key to the success of the CCP in a real world contingency.”
Justin Pummel, a geographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Institute for Water Resources, who helped plan the exercise praised the cooperation among the participants and their responses to the simulated scenarios.
“This is something we haven’t done before so of course there were some bumps along the way but I think overall everyone did a great job.”
Dr. Maksud Kamal with the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Relief who spoke at the DREE about the importance of assessment, prevention and prediction said, “We need more events like this, bringing various disaster management actors together, talking to each other and sharing our knowledge and experience.”
Maj. Kenneth Frey, an engineer plans officer with the USARPAC CCP, also emphasized the importance of events like the DREE, noting it was a great opportunity for the HAST to practice what they would do in a real-world disaster.
“This is the first DREE where the HAST was deployed to provide support. It was an excellent opportunity to do some bilateral coordination and also coordinate with USAID [U.S. Agency for International Development] and OFDA- [The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance].”
During a real-world contingency the HAST would have to interact and coordinate not only with military counterparts but also civilian aid organizations, also known as non-governmental organizations.
Frey also added that he looked forward to the CCP taking part in more exchanges like this in the future.
“This went very well so if we can do the same thing with other countries like Nepal, Cambodia and Indonesia, that would be excellent.”