DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Over 150 civil and military authorities convened at the Lakeshore Hotel in Dhaka Monday to kick off the largest humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise held annually in Bangladesh.

The 2014 Pacific Resilience (PR) Disaster Response Exercise & Exchange (DREE) is an engagement between the Government of Bangladesh and U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) that promotes emergency preparedness. The PR DREE runs from Aug. 18-21 at numerous locations throughout Dhaka including the Fire Service and Civil Defence Training Academy and the airfield at Tejgaon. This is the fifth annual PR DREE, an engagement that enhances the steadfast relationship between the governments of Bangladesh and the United States.

"The geographical location and topographical features of Bangladesh have made us vulnerable for all kinds of natural disasters," said Mesbah ul Alam, Secretary of the Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief. "Cyclones, flood…and drought are natural disasters that could happen. Historical instances in Bangladesh and adjoining areas indicate that Bangladesh is vulnerable to earthquake damage."

PR DREE is structured to increase disaster preparedness, response capabilities and civilian-military coordination in the face of a large scale natural disaster. This year's PR DREE will specifically exercise plans, equipment and personnel between the two countries to increase readiness for earthquake response and recovery in Dhaka City.

Should a large scale earthquake hit the most populous city in Bangladesh, it is estimated that 70,000 buildings would collapse, causing the death, injury and entrapment of thousands of people.
"The mind cannot even begin to fathom a disaster of this magnitude, but fathom it we must," said Dan Mozena, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh. "We simply must think the unthinkable, imagine the unimaginable, prepare for the disaster of all disasters."

In recent years, the Government of Bangladesh has taken numerous preparedness initiatives, implemented mitigation measures like hazard and risk analysis, land use regulations, and increased training, said Alam.

PR DREE provides a platform for collaboration to ensure that preparedness is an ongoing effort. Though it is led by Bangladesh Armed Forces Division (AFD) and USARPAC, PR DREE involves the critical support of numerous civilian institutions. Without civil-military interoperability, disaster management will be slower and less effective. The PR DREE 2014 aims to unite all necessary stakeholders to ensure disaster management is maximized through effective engagement, planning and practice. Through this coordination and management, all responders will be more prepared to counter the impacts a large-scale earthquake that may affect Bangladesh.

Monday's activities included an opening ceremony a series of presentations regarding the possible effects of a large scale earthquake on Dhaka, the roles of various agencies and organizations in a combined response, and the numerous logistical issues that would be encountered. Subject matter experts from the Bangladesh Department of Disaster Management, Bangladesh Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP), U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the International Committee of the Red Cross, United Nations Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), World Food Programme (WFP), and BBC Media Action were among those presenting materials in preparation for the exercise portions of the PR DREE.
"DREE will validate the plans that the government, civil society and other stakeholders have in place for responding to disaster," said Mozena. "Most especially, DREE will assess the effectiveness of these plans in addressing their critical need for effective communications."

On Tuesday, a Table Top Exercise (TTX) at the Fire Service and Civil Defence Training Academy will present participants with the scenario details and several questions, testing their various areas of expertise. The TTX will lead into the Field Training Exercise (FTX), which will expand on the TTX scenario. On Wednesday, the FTX will include several other locations in Dhaka in order to simulate some of the different logistical obstacles that will arise should a large scale earthquake hit the city. Following the exercises, an After-Action Review (AAR) will be held to identify issues that need to be addressed in future iterations of the PR DREE.

"I applaud the Government of Bangladesh for its deep commitment to engaging on preparations for a large scale earthquake," Mozena said. "And I am proud that America is Bangladesh's partner in making these preparations."

The primary themes of this year's PR DREE are logistics, emergency public communication, and media affairs. Logistical topics will address foreign humanitarian assistance considerations; the reception and dissemination of aid, first responders, and injured; prioritization of land, air and sea space; and management of logistical supplies. Communication considerations will focus on civil-military interoperability; alerting and informing the public; joint information management; and media partnerships. Other topics, such as engineering, medical, Urban Search & Rescue (USAR) and disaster coordination, will also be included in the exercise.

U.S. participants in this year's PR DREE include: USARPAC, Oregon National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps. Bangladesh participants include: Armed Forces Division, Fire Service and Civil Defence, Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Communication, Department of Disaster Management, Civil Aviation Association of Bangladesh, Dhaka City Corporation and Sylhet. International and national agency participants include: Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, CARE Bangladesh, United Nations -- OCHA, WFP, World Health Organization, BBC Media Action, and the Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme.

Pacific Resilience is USARPAC's main platform for sharing best practices and lessons learned across the HA/DR spectrum to enhance all parties' abilities to respond and recover from an emergency situation. It is designed to grow and reinforce capacity through scenarios that simulate reality, identify procedural gaps, and practice techniques required for efficient and collaborative response by civilian and military authorities. PR is anchored on HA/DR operations and the integration of all first responder communities. It practices how militaries support civilian authorities when requested during disaster situations, the reception and dissemination of foreign humanitarian assistance and the strategic communication required to successful execute emergency management plans. It does all of these things in full partnership between civilian and military institutions. To date, PR DREEs have been held in six countries since 2000. In 2015 there are plans for five PR DREEs: Bangladesh, Nepal, Mongolia, Lower Mekong Basin, and Papua New Guinea.