PHITSANULOK, Kingdom of Thailand -- A contingent of U.S. service members entered the heart of Phitsanulok, Kingdom of Thailand, Feb. 5 to tour the main transportation hubs for the city of approximately 85,000 people as part of a civil reconnaissance mission during Cobra Gold 2014.
The U.S. service members are participating in a civil affairs capacity as part of the Combined Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force during the exercise, which is currently in its 33rd iteration and takes place at locations across Thailand.
Phitsanulok is centrally located in Thailand between two rivers and has traditionally been a connecting point for the goods and crops from the north to travel south via waterways into the ports of Bangkok.
The location of the city remains critical for the transport of people and cargo across Thailand, with buses and trains bearing the majority of the modern day traffic, according to U.S. Marine Sgt. Jonathan Salas, a civil affairs noncommissioned officer with the civil affairs detachment, G-3, operations, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“It’s important for civil affairs to know about public transportation in the event a natural disaster occurs,” said Salas. “As far as relocating victims of the disaster, one of the methods of travel could be through either the bus or train stations.”
The rail lines are funded by the government of Thailand and are able to move equipment and personnel, according to Chaluay Wijarat, the station master for the Phitsanulok Train Station.
“We have mainly passenger and cargo trains,” said Wijarat. “We service 12-13 passenger trains a day, carrying approximately 600 people each. (Phitsanulok) station also processes 2-3 cargo trains daily.”
Phitsanulok is situated approximately 700 km from Bangkok in the south and 700 km from Chang Mai in the north, making it a central location for much of the rail and bus traffic in Thailand.
The civil affairs detachment recognizes the value of the transportation hub for the role it could play during a response to a natural disaster, according to Salas.
“The location of Phitsanulok in Thailand can play a key role in disaster response,” said Salas. “In the event of tsunami or flooding in the south, Phitsanulok is in an ideal location to transport people to a higher area.”
Travel times and distances contribute greatly to the overall site picture developed by civil affairs personnel when assessing disaster response procedures and gauging the overall quality of life for the citizens of a particular region, according to U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Kylie Curtis, a civil affairs Marine with the civil affairs detachment, G-3, operations, III MEF.
“If (the U.S. military) understands their transportation system, then when a disaster happens we are able to (help) get people out effectively,” said Curtis. “We’ll know how there system works, and how it is similar or different from ours.”
The Phitsanulok train station has managed to keep their trains moving during periods of harsh inclement weather, according to Wijarat.
“We have never had to stop our trains due to natural disaster,” said Wijarat.
Identifying and validating the crucial role of the public transportation system to not only citizenry, but to disaster planners allows for seamless integration during times of high stress, according to Salas.
“The station sees many different customers throughout the day,” said Salas. “It comes down to understanding the routes. In the event of a natural disaster, having a good plan for response will be critical.”