Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Philippine and US Military Learn From Japan’s Disaster Response

CAMP AGUINALDO, QUEZON CITY— The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the United States Armed Forces USAF) were able to see the perspective of the Japan Self-Defence Force’s (JSDF) Disaster and Response Operations (DRO) when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Eastern Japan, March last year.

This was during yesterday’s Balikatan Exercise 2012 (BK12) Senior Leader’s Seminar SLS) on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response (HADR) at the Tejeros Hall of the AFP Commissioned Officers Club. The seminar is the first of its kind which pump primed the Command Post Exercise (CPX) that started today at Camp Aguinaldo. The table top exercise will simulate different natural disaster and calamity scenarios which will test and improve the planning, preparations, program of action and responses of both Philippine and US military.

Captain Yuzo Shibata of JSDF shared yesterday the general immediate response of their military during natural disasters. “In my country, when disaster strikes, the local governors in each respective prefectures are to issue the JSDF aid request to local military unit. Upon receiving the request, the unit will either conduct DR Ops or pass the word to the other units, other branches, depending on the scale of the disaster. In case if the communication tools are all down and the situations are obviously critical, the commanders of the local units are expected to conduct DR Ops by their own judgment,” Shibata said.

Japan is said to be the most prepared country for an earthquake or a tsunami but the March 2011 disaster proved that even the most prepared is not safe from the terrible effects of natural calamities. Following the Nuclear Power Plant threat in Fukushima, JSDF conducted aerial and ground water spraying, search and rescue operations within contaminated areas, and screenings after the entry to contaminated areas. Shibata said that during the crisis, JSDF “never imagined doing these operations before.”

Foreseeing future challenges, Capt Shibata finally recommended for the review of the Disaster Relief Operations Plan, and Crisis Management Postures by cooperating with relevant organizations.

The SLS is a venue in the BK12 that allows senior level discussions on HADR lessons, processes, and functions that will enhance local and international humanitarian risk reduction/mitigation and response mechanisms. Accordingly, foreign partners discussed their experiences and mechanisms in terms of HADR.

Different representatives from local and foreign agencies with vast experience and knowledge on the conduct of HADR attended yesterday’s seminar. USEC Benito Ramos, Executive Director of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Center presented the Philippine Disaster Response System; MGen Romeo V Calizo, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, discussed AFP’s Role on HADR; and Dir Edgardo Ollet (MNSA), Chief of the Operations Center of the Civil Defense Office, discussed the Philippine HADR Experience.

Also, Col Timothy C Frantz of the US 3rd Marine Division discussed Operation Tomodachi, US Armed Forces’ assistance program to Japan following 2011’s earthquake and tsunami. He was joined by LTC Stuart Graham who will discuss the Australian Defence Force’s Disaster Response Relief programs.

Todd Bosse, Senior Geospatial Info Analyst of the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) talked about the facilities, programs and other going-ons of the PDC. Also present were Col James Reilly USMC, Chief of Staff of the USMARFORPAC; and Col Rafael Valencia, Chief of the ARMO, Philippine Army who acted as moderators of the Panel Discussions.

AFP Chief of Staff General Jessie D Dellosa said that the SLS in the Balikatan 2012 aims to strengthen and enhance internal Philippine HADR processes through collaborative dialogue. “The different approaches employed by other countries in HADR will surely help us widen our perspective and improve our policies, procedures, preparations, and responses in the emergence of natural calamities and man-made disasters in the Philippines,” Gen Dellosa said.

“We thank the participants for sharing to us their experiences by which we can derive lessons and best practices for the improvement of our own HADR policies and responses. Having shared also our expertise in HADR, we hope that collective and collaborative efforts will continue for the benefit of the people we serve,” Gen Dellosa added.

Balikatan 2012 is the 28th of the series that sprung from decades of friendship and mutual assistance between the Philippines and the United States. The main focus of this year’s exercises is Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response. The activity seeks to identify gaps and solutions from previous disaster situations that will be addressed through discussions with representatives from foreign disaster response systems.