An infectious disease has spread rapidly across Southeast Asia, and for the people of the Philippines, the impact of a highly contagious, and even deadly, strain of the flu has affected all sectors of society: overtaking healthcare providers, disabling critical infrastructure, crippling manufacturing and agricultural output, reducing transportation and tourism, and overwhelming first responders and government officials.
This catastrophic event is the challenge Philippine civil and military agencies face during the first Philippine Multi-sectoral Pandemic Disaster Exercise here, Sept. 10-14.
The Pandemic Disaster Exercise is funded by the U.S. Government, through the United States Agency for International Development and sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM). This exercise is facilitated by the Philippine National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), U.S. Marine Forces Pacific (MARFORPAC), the International Medical Corps PREPARE (Pandemic Preparedness) Project, and supported by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). As with other bilateral exchanges, this event reinforces the mutual commitment shared between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States to enhance effective response capabilities to regional threats.
Though the exercise emphasizes a severe pandemic scenario, there will be lesser disaster sub-scenarios that will be implemented in order to apply existing practices of pandemic preparedness plans, with subsequent assessments of those plans to ensure coordination and mitigation best practices are standardized during such national emergencies.
“History shows that disasters, both manmade and natural, are constant,” said John McCombs, USPACOM lead strategic response and policy planner. “(All types of disasters) affect all sectors of a society in similar ways, but what’s important is how we collectively plan and respond to them.”
As partners with the Philippines and other Asia-Pacific nations, U.S. interagency efforts in coordination with USPACOM, have facilitated over 20 contingency preparedness engagements with regional partners that have provided training to over 7,000 disaster preparedness practitioners.
“Our combined goal is to support (exercises) like this one that focuses on a ‘whole of society,’ which includes international influence, interagency cooperation and civil-military coordination at the highest level,” said Brig. Gen. Pamela Milligan, USPACOM operations’ (J3) chief of staff.
"There is little we can be more sure of, that the next disaster may be just around the corner...it is the nature of our region, and the challenge that brings us all together," reinforced Milligan in her opening remarks.
The exercise intent is to assist Philippine government and private sector entities in improving their pandemic preparedness plan by instituting an "all hazards" strategic planning approach at both national and community levels, explained Elizabeth N. Colina, MARFORPAC Health Service Support Branch head.
Furthermore, Colina added, the advantage of the exercise is the unique integrated approach that emphasizes civil-military and public-private partnerships. This interactive activity is intended to strengthen relationships, enhance the exchange of information and improve planning among participants who rarely have the opportunity to work together unless a disaster occurs.
During the four-day scenario-based tabletop exercise, participants will examine three critical elements of good governance as part of large-scale disasters, which include emergency management protocols at all levels of government, essential services that support societal infrastructures and risk communication.
“This exercise was designed by our community of interest and by all nations involved,” said Milligan. “The outcome of the objectives will be a common understanding of the tasks ahead of us and our ongoing commitment to working together.”