Saving lives using agreed upon communication procedures was the goal during Pacific Endeavor, a multi-nation humanitarian workshop hosted by U.S. Pacific Command and the Singapore Armed Forces at Changi Command and Control Center at Changi Naval Base, Singapore Aug. 16-27.
Many non-governmental organizations may have limited resources and logistical challenges to overcome when responding to a disaster. This is why a rapid installation of a communication network to coordinate relief efforts is critical to saving lives.
The workshop brought together militaries from 16 Asia-Pacific nations and for the first time since the program’s inception, members of the humanitarian community and business leaders from private industry also took part.
Salvation Army Lt. Col. Dan Starrett spoke of the importance of non-governmental partnerships with the military.
“We are always looking for ways we can be better partners with the military. The tremendous resources the military has in moving equipment and supplies is of particular interest to us and helps us respond to the needs of people more quickly,” he said.
During the two-week event, participants tested several communication networks in a disaster scenario, which simulated an earthquake in metro Manila.
“We [Armed Forces of the Philippines] already did a similar test with Exercise Balikatan earlier this year, but communication infrastructure was just a small part. But now during Pacific Endeavor, we can get into the gritty details and exercise the nuts and bolts of the communications part,” said Philippines Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marcus Jason Bartolome, a senior communicator and one of five military representatives from the Philippines attending the workshop.
Established in 2003 under PACOM’s Multinational Communications Interoperability Program (MCIP), the program mirrors similar humanitarian communication workshops taking place at European and Africa Command.
Attendees have found that by working together before a crisis, they can dramatically cut down on miscommunication and misunderstanding, which can have devastating effects during a natural disaster.
The program is structured so that each participating nation plays a key role in the decision making process of how the workshop is planned. A corporate board consisting of representatives from each nation’s military spends months leading up to the workshop designing objectives.
After the objectives are agreed upon, they are then placed into the scenario and assessed so each year, they can examine the challenge and opportunities each nation faces when communicating during a natural disaster.
“This is the first year we have involved internet security awareness training, so we spent time developing an agreed-upon information assurance plan,” said U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron White.
“This extremely important during a humanitarian crisis because there might be private information that must be protected, such as medical information or someone’s social security number,” he explained.
Many of the best practices harnessed during Pacific Endeavor are already being utilized when responding to natural disasters. One such training is the use of social networking tools to quickly share information among several government agencies and non-governmental organizations.
“Using web 2.0 technology during the recent Haiti crisis, we were able to save lives by rapidly disseminating information between the non-governmental organizations and military communities,” said John Holloway, liaison officer for PACOM and Sea Services. Holloway works for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense and tracks how the U.S. military shares information during a humanitarian crisis.
“This was a groundbreaking innovation in the way the U.S. military shares information among humanitarian agencies and the United Nations. Having this workshop compliments efforts already established and paves the way to further relationship building for increased coordination, which can ultimately saves lives in a natural disaster,” said Holloway.