BAKU, Azerbaijan - A team of seven American subject matter experts traveled to Baku for an emergency response workshop and exercise Sept. 20-22. The event was conducted in coordination with the U.S. Embassy Baku and the U.S. Department of Defense Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness program, under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency's Institute for Security Governance.
The U.S. team supporting the workshop, made up of experts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Oklahoma National Guard, worked with first responders to improve national and international cooperation in Azerbaijan in the area of emergency planning and preparedness. The workshop’s events included presentations, lessons learned discussions and a culminating tabletop exercise to challenge the nearly two dozen participants.
The Oklahoma National Guard has a 20-year partnership with Azerbaijan helping the country build military capability. Their experiences battling wildland fires and helping Oklahoma communities deal with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, snowstorms and other emergency situations were especially valuable to the workshop.
"All of the participants at this event understand the importance of civil defense matters, as natural disasters happen unexpectedly and can be of tremendous magnitude," said Maj. Gen. Niyazi Zamanov, head of the Department of Civil Defense in the Azerbaijan Ministry of Emergency Situations. "We have to be prepared in order to minimize the impacts of such disasters."
The exercise scenario involved an earthquake causing widespread damage in a mountainous region of the country during winter, leading the government to activate response efforts focused on mass care and sheltering. Led by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, representatives from various government agencies and organizations participated in the tabletop discussions, including the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Digital Development and Transport, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, State Customs Committee, as well as Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society.
"We, in the U.S., have many of the same challenges as Azerbaijan, when working with the media and coordinating with multiple agencies throughout a natural disaster event," said USACE Director of Military Programs Dr. Christine Altendorf. "That's why planning is so important."
Altendorf said the atmosphere in the workshop was about sharing, learning and making all participants better. She is responsible for the execution of USACE's worldwide program for engineering, construction, real estate, and environmental activities in support of the Army, Air Force, other Department of Defense and federal agencies, and foreign nations.
The exercise provided the Azerbaijan government an opportunity for continuous improvement in planning for and readiness to respond to natural and manmade disasters in the country and was conducted in cooperation with the Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness program, which supports NATO Partner Nations in building capacity for national-level and all-hazards disaster preparedness.
"All of the Azerbaijan individuals we worked with are very skilled professionals, and this workshop and exercise provided them with the opportunity to continue to collaborate with their colleagues from other organizations," said Diane Acurio, USACE project leader. "I believe this event was very successful in that it brought together a number of people who will work closely together in future crisis response efforts."
Acurio has led CMEP events in Azerbaijan since 2008, fostering an enduring relationship with emergency response professionals in the country.
CMEP program events, executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, focus on facilitating inter-ministerial and civil-military cooperation, enhancing Armed Forces capabilities to provide defense support to civil authority and regional / multilateral cooperation to support response to disasters.