ROXAS CITY, Philippines - Multinational crew members of the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) wrapped up participation in a humanitarian assistance disaster relief (HADR) seminar July 24 hosted by Philippine government agencies at Capiz State University.
Dozens of stakeholders representing a diverse makeup of countries and organizations attended the weeklong event to better prepare all involved in responding to a natural disaster in the region.
“This was the first time that something like this has been done in the Philippines, where a whole region came together [to work on disaster response,]” said U.S. Army Capt. John Karlsson, a civil affairs team leader. Representatives from six provinces and ten agencies from the Philippines were in attendance, including the Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard, and multiple government agencies.
The seminar featured discussions from subject matter experts on lessons learned from HADR operations during the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan (known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines), a category 5 super typhoon, which cut across the central Philippines in 2013. The storm killed more than 6,000 people and caused more than $2 billion in damage.
“We cannot work alone as first responders. We need help in [the province of] Antique,” said Leoderrick Benitez, a first responder who works for the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO) for Antique. “For instance, in Typhoon Yolanda, we were very overwhelmed during that typhoon. We need some logistics resources and a network [we can call upon.] That’s why we are very grateful to work with people from all of these other countries.”
Filipino first responders were taught how to use a vehicle extrication tool to safely remove crash victims from crushed vehicles. Through donations made by Project Handclasp, 10 extrication tool sets were distributed to PDRRMO teams.
“We were able to distribute this equipment, show some people some online videos, and give some hands-on training. We know that this is now going to save lives,” said Karlsson.
Members of the Japan Self-Defense Force also provided a briefing on the disaster response efforts following the Great East Earthquake of Japan in March 2011.
“It was apparent during the workshop that our Japanese friends wanted to share their experiences. The one thing that they expressed was the difficulties that they had during the earthquake and tsunami,” said Giselle Grace Gerial, a representative from the Philippine Department of the Interior. “If I hadn’t interacted with them, I might have thought that the Philippines is behind compared to the things other countries are doing. But, after interacting with them I realized that we are actually on par in terms of planning, but our challenges lie in implementation of our plan.”
Pilots and air crewmen from U.S. Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 provided training on how to find and mark helicopter landing zones in the field. Also, the aircrew provided a take-off and landing demonstration, as well as familiarization flights at Capiz State University’s sports stadium.
“What we saw during the relief efforts after Typhoon Yolanda, was when a helicopter tries to land, so many people flocked to the helicopter landing zone,” said Karlsson. “It’s a problem across multiple agencies… What we were able to do is bring everyone together and talk about roles and responsibilities, and actually practice that.”
U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Navy medical personnel also provided training on how to respond to crushing injuries during a disaster scenario. However, probably the most valuable lesson learned during the seminar was learning to work together across multiple countries and agencies, said Karlsson.
“What we really did was get people to solve problems together,” he said. “The region was very interested in collaborating together as a whole. Just by putting all the right people in the room together, there were new ideas, and it showed people how to work together.”
Now in its tenth iteration, Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
Mercy arrived in Roxas City July 18 and will depart Aug. 4 to transit to Subic Bay and continue its mission in the Philippines.
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