By Mrs. Jennifer Aldridge (USACE)July 29, 2015
PODGORICA, Montenegro -- In a country affected by floods, droughts and earthquakes, the government's capacity to respond to and manage the consequences of a disaster is a matter of life and death.
After the 2010 floods, the worst in Montenegrin history, according to the government's website, preparing for future hazards became a priority of the ministers of Interior and Defense, as well as support agencies and emergency responders.
In mid-June, six subject-matter experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Maine National Guard took part in a Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness workshop aimed at assisting approximately 20 Montenegrin officials in developing an exercise program focused on major calamities threatening the country.
The experts, including Lt. Col. Joshua Doscinski, the Maine Army National Guard current operations branch chief, spent a week sharing emergency-management best practices and lessons learned from the U.S.
"We have a long track record of responding to disasters when they strike at home or abroad," Doscinski said. "Working with emergency-management professionals from other nations helps build relationships and develop capabilities that may save lives and property in the future."
Presenters covered topics ranging from planning interagency scenarios and leveraging geographic information systems to understanding exercise planning techniques and communicating during an emergency. The workshop also included breakout sessions to develop tangible products the Montenegrins can use as they develop their emergency-management exercise program.
Drawing on real-life experience, the U.S. expert focused on preparation for and planning of exercises, said Josh Marx, the Kansas City District Natural Disaster Program manager.
"At home, I work a lot with flood fights; Montenegrins also experience floods and don't currently exercise for them, so this was a good opportunity to use my expertise," he said. "The Montenegrins want to model what we do in the U.S. when it comes to exercise development."
As the week progressed, presenters and participants melded into a high-functioning group. The discussions were lively and productive, and resulted in agreement on the way ahead, Doscinski said.
"Representatives from various ministries bought into the need to conduct disaster-response exercises involving multiple agencies to accurately reflect what would happen during a significant disaster," he said. "Attendees identified the critical role the Ministry of Interior plays in making this happen."
Bringing key emergency-management representatives to the table for a week afforded dialogue and progress that may not have taken place otherwise, Doscinski said.
"Each participant gained a better understanding of how to develop an exercise and the importance of adopting standardized products across all ministries," he said.
Incorporating members of the Maine National Guard -- Montenegro's state partner -- was also a benefit to the CMEP workshop. Not only do these Soldiers regularly work with the Montenegrins, but they also lend credibility to the team of presenters because the National Guard is frequently called on to respond to state and national disasters, Doscinski said.
"The CMEP program plays an important leadership role in bringing together emergency-management resources from various agencies in order to improve the response capacity of our partner nations," he said. "Maine National Guard's pre-existing and sustainable relationships can help monitor Montenegro's long-term progress in disaster response."
Moving forward, the CMEP goal is to assist Montenegrins in building a practical exercise they can commit to executing. This also means developing a formalized training and exercise program, Marx said.
"First and foremost, a multiagency approach to exercising must be adopted, then they can focus on exercising one of the major hazards they have, such as floods," he said.
The next CMEP event in Montenegro is planned for late 2015 or early 2016.
"Being part of this event was a fascinating opportunity to work with U.S. experts and representatives from the Montenegrin government," Doscinski said.
USACE has been executing emergency-preparedness events on behalf of the U.S. military since 1998. The program was established to support the Warsaw Initiative Funds, a program to help former Warsaw Pact nations and newly independent countries make a successful transition to democratic institutions following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since that time, the program has expanded worldwide and USACE has executed more than 350 events in 41 countries, 20 of which are located in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility.
CMEP supports the Army and geographic combatant commands by helping partner nations build capacity to manage the consequences of all disasters -- natural, technological and acts resulting from the use of weapons of mass destruction. This is accomplished by organizing workshops and exercises to improve capabilities in areas identified in a disaster preparedness survey and assessment.
Experts supporting the events volunteer from throughout USACE, as well as the National Guard State Partnership Program and other U.S. departments and agencies.
Activities conducted as part of CMEP include: disaster-preparedness survey and assessment; national-response plan development and review; regional and bilateral GIS; crisis-management center development; interagency crisis-management system plan review; critical-infrastructure protection; communicating with the public and media; military support to civil authorities; scenario planning; exercise development; and special topic seminars and workshops.