KATHMANDU, Nepal - The final day of the Tribhuvan International Disaster Response Plan exercise ended with hand shakes and smiles Sept. 18, 2014, as participants from various civilian and military agencies congratulated each other on completing a drill designed to save lives.
For four days, civilian aviation leaders, along with members of Nepal's military and police and worked side-by-side with civilian and military professionals from U.S. Army Pacific, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and numerous international agencies, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, World Food Programme, and the International Civil Aviation Office to practice a plan developed to deal with a large earthquake at Nepal's only international airport.
"This is a very vulnerable area in terms of seismic activity," explains Justin Pummell, a Geographer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "If a large earthquake were to strike Tribhuvan International Airport, then critical infrastructure, such as the runway, may not completely survive. Kathmandu Valley would be severely limited on the amount of international aid it could receive if this airport has to shut down. This validates the need for the DRP and for us to exercise it."
The Disaster Response Plan was composed in 2012 following a seismic vulnerability workshop a year earlier, but Pummell says the plan had not yet been tested prior to this exercise. This prevented planners from being able to identify any gaps in the plan.
Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, the deputy head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs based in Bangkok, Thailand, says one of the things that participants learned in exercising the DRP is that it is "a robust plan and the government of Nepal and (U.S. Army Pacific) and other people involved in this plan should be congratulated for their disaster response preparedness efforts."
Among the accomplishments of the exercise was assembling the participants to conduct a synergistic effort in executing the DRP.
The TIA DRP exercise brings together all the relevant actors for an airport operation that would immediately follow a catastrophic earthquake and it gives us the opportunity to essentially prepare, understand each other's roles and responsibilities, and understand where each organization fits into supporting the Nepalese government, says Stampa.
"Ultimately, you have a lot of different stakeholders with a lot of different missions, all trying to use the same space and trying to, as best they can, work at how we are going to support the Government of Nepal and the TIA authorities," Stampa says.
Stampa adds that while a few may have disagreed with how to implement the plan, all walked away understanding that any differences in opinion are not personal and that participants passions are well-placed in order to ensure the DRP works as intended.
The exercise objectives were to increase awareness of the disaster response plan to stakeholders, identify gaps in the plan, enhance communication between stakeholders and provide a venue to evaluate foreign assistance procedures at Tribhuvan International Airport.
Detailed steps in the plan include processes and methods to respond to an earthquake immediately following the event, including short- and long-term recovery measures required to restore the airport to varying levels of functionality. The DRP also includes information on rapid runway repair, ground-handling equipment requirements, throughput calculations on aircraft capacity at the airport, seismic vulnerability and foreign humanitarian assistance considerations.
Subject matter experts presented material, including lessons learned from other natural disaster response efforts, during the incipient portions of the drill. This was followed by a command post exercise, a field training exercise, and an after-action review.
The TIA DRP exercise is part of U.S. Army Pacific's "Pacific Resilience" series of exercises. "Pacific Resilience" is USARPAC's main platform to engage, partner and prepare in a whole of government approach using military and civilians to plan and execute events. It utilizes medical, engineering, humanitarian assistance and other related activities to implement, corroborate and test plans, equipment and personnel against a variety of emergency scenarios that continuously affect the Asia-Pacific region. To date, PR DREEs have been held in six countries since 2000. In 2015 there are plans for five PR DREEs.