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Assistance across borders

The Asia Pacific Fire Magazine covers the most disaster prone area in the world, we have it all; wildfires, industrial fires, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, mudslides, hazardous material, volcanos and terrorism, not much left to worry about. Many of these also occur as a flow on from a main event, thereby compounding our problems. e.g. tsunami from an earthquake or floods from a cyclone.

Emergency workers in the region meet often during conferences, attending training courses, competitions, international visits, standards meetings and many other events. At these events we talk about the emergency management family and like all good families we would like to think we could assist each other in times of trouble.

There are unfortunately, in the real world, some barriers to just being able to respond to assist a family member in need. International borders, different languages, different cultures and varied circumstances all detract from the ability to assist.

There are a number of different agreements and guides for cross-border assistance in the event of a disaster an example being the “2011, Disaster Response in Asia and the Pacific, a guide to international tools and services”. We also have some bilateral agreements between countries for assistance in the event of a disaster but most of these are limited to countries with similar languages and cultures.

As I travel around the region I see a massive number of resources that could be used to assist but in most cases they go underutilised. I’m not saying we don’t assist each other but are we doing all we can and what is stopping us? Over the past two decades emergency services that were struggling in the region have become sophisticated well trained and well equipped agencies and I don’t think there has been recognition or understanding of this change in the region.

In most disasters it is the first 48 hours, where people are trapped and/or injured, that expert intervention will make the most difference, from then on the death rate starts climbing rapidly. Therefore, this first two days is where our energies must go.

Wouldn’t this scenario be great? An earthquake occurs in our region and the following takes place, as soon as the call for assistance come in. Hopefully as soon as the event occurs preparation will be taking place in expectation of the call for assistance.

So as not to be a burden on the affected countries all assistance is self-contained;

  • A predetermined earthquake response is sent from the nearest nations qualified in USAR as well as significant personnel for support;
  • The responding country has well practiced internal responding systems and the receiving country has similar well practiced systems for receiving aid;
  • All countries have pre-planned and identified a number of sites for accommodation, marshalling and logistics to be set up immediately;
  • Integrated command with local agencies are set up;
  • Rapid assessment and deployment takes place (10 hr response from a neighbouring country);
  • A second larger response has been planned and on the way (24 hr response);

I have attended many meetings where the barriers are highlighted, I don’t have the answers, but what I do know is that the scenario above is achievable. One of the areas in which we fall down is that all agencies would like to think they are ‘all hazard’ agencies. Is this a future? Why not specialise on top of first response capability? Countries could be experts in communication, camp management, logistics, incident control, mechanical repair and many other roles. This is not the glamour side of emergency management but we all know without these utilities working well everything comes to a stop.

Finally, is a quote from General Dwight D Eisenhower “A plan is nothing; planning is everything” The detail planning process for rapid deployment into a foreign country is where relationships will be build and depended upon during a disaster.

This should not be a country by country process but a coordinated regional approach, who will put their hand up to coordinate?

 

 

Top image for illustration purposes only and by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Philip A. McDaniel

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Neil Bibby was Chief Executive Officer of the Country Fire Authority between 2002 and 2009 and Managing Director People and Innovation