By Christine Morrice, PAO, Center for Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian AssistanceSeptember 3, 2010
HONOLULU, Hawaii - U.S. Army, Pacific senior leaders met with more than 30 other military and government leaders from countries in the Pacific area of responsibility at the Asia Pacific Senior Civil Military Seminar here Aug. 31 to Sept. 1. Focused on improving regional disaster response the inaugural seminar was the first in a series of annual events to bring together senior military and civilian leaders from around the Asia-Pacific region.
Leaders representing USARPAC included Commanding General, Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, Deputy Commander Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Chaves and Contingency Command Post Deputy Chief of Staff, Col. Chelsea Chae.
Expressing his thoughts and observations Chaves said, "The Seminar was an excellent opportunity for military and civilian emergency management personnel from Asia-Pacific to develop and exchange ideas as it pertains to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during the first ten days of a natural disaster."
"From the U.S. government perspective, the three main areas of development, foreign policy, and humanitarian response are effectively well-served by programs such as this seminar," said U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Scott Delisi. He added that these altogether contribute to global stability, which is in the best interest of all nations, including the U.S.
Chaves said, "By using the Haiti Response as a starting point, the seminar provided a forum where participants could drill down into many of the issues and explore international and regional solution had the earthquake occurred in the Pacific area of responsibility. Some of the best ideas and proposed solutions came from our Asia-Pacific partners who deal with natural disasters on a recurring basis."
Ambassador Lewis Lucke, the U.S. Response Coordinator for the Haiti earthquake, made opening remarks, along with Lt. Gen. P.K. Keen, Deputy Commander of the U.S. military's Southern Command. Both speakers shared civil-military lessons learned from the January 2010 disaster, when they worked together.
Senior military and government officials from Malaysia, Thailand, India, Nepal and the Philippines were in attendance, along with their counterparts from PACOM and its components, including the Special Operations Command, U.S. Army, Pacific, the U.S. Pacific Air Force and U.S. Pacific Fleet.
The international humanitarian community was represented by the United Nations World Food Program, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Brig. Gen. Mike Keltz, Deputy Director of Operations, Plans, Requirements and Programs USPACAF, said that from a U.S. military perspective, the seminar demonstrated how well developed international agreements and capacities are.
"Often, when the U.S. military arrives at a disaster, the national capacity has been significantly destroyed, as was the case with Haiti. But disasters occur all the time, such as cyclones in Bangladesh or mass flooding in Malaysia, and there are national, regional and international frameworks already in place or being developed to address these," said Keltz.
"It was pleasant to see how far nations in the Asia-Pacific have come and how national capabilities really only need to get jump-started by U.S. military support," he said.
Keltz noted that building partner capacity in that regard is a particularly effective way for the U.S. military to utilize its resources.
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed more than 230,000 lives and cost $9.9 billion in damage, sparked a growth in international dialogue on military-civilian coordination in disasters, which resulted in agreements began by ASEAN and the U.N.
"Events like these are very important because it brings a large group of people from different sectors from around the Asia Pacific region, which is prone to disaster," said Lt. Gen. Pawan Jung Thapa of Nepal. He added that the presence of a senior delegation from his country at the seminar, led by Ambassador Delisi, reflects Nepal's concerns about improving national and international disaster response.
The seminar centered on the sharing of lessons learned and key topics of coordination and liaison agreements, information-sharing and logistics. Despite the emphasis on international and regional frameworks, participants also underscored that good disaster response begins at the community and national level before regional and international frameworks come into play.
"I believe that...countries should come together and develop mutual protocols for the use of military, if required, in the aid of civilian authorities," said Amit Jha, Joint Secretary for India's National Disaster Management Agency.
"But I would like to underline that ultimately, disaster management is best a civil and community-led effort."
Delegates expressed hope that the dialogue that began at the seminar is sustained.
"I think this seminar can be the start of something big in the future. A formal grouping of senior civil and military leaders engaged in disaster response is, I think, an idea whose time has come," said Ronald Flores, Civil Defense Executive Officer of the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Council. He noted that efforts by USPACOM could mirror the process of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response, expected to become fully functional next year.
"We highly appreciate the efforts that's been taken by Pacific Command on this aspect and that they've taken the lead on this - it's very good. But there's a lot of work that still needs to be done," said Thapa, saying that more needed to be learned and discussed. "We need to have constant communication and interaction with stakeholders so that issues that could affect their ability to join a disaster response in the future are addressed now."
The Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance executed the event on behalf of the U.S Pacific Command.
The event is part of a senior-level regional series that COE launched this year to improve civil-military disaster response on an annual basis. Last month, COE executed a similar seminar in Nepal to bring together key South Asian civilian and military responders.