Senior leaders with U.S. Army Pacific, the People’s Liberation Army and representatives from various disaster management agencies participated in an expert academic discussion during the 13th iteration U.S. and China Disaster Management Exchange Nov. 13 to 14 in Portland, Ore.
The exchange was a U.S. and China humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exchange, which included an expert academic discussion, a tabletop exchange and a practical field exchange.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldiers from the 13th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command and the 571st Sapper Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, 555th Engineer Brigade, participated in the event.
Hosted by U.S. Army Pacific, the exchange provides an opportunity for hands-on and side-by-side interaction between United States Army and the People’s Liberation Army on Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations and enables sharing of lessons learned.
The exchange focused on a national flooding scenario in which both armies will be requested to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to a third affected state as part of a Multinational Coordination Center.
“The Disaster Management Exchange is foundational to U.S. and China relations, and I am proud of the work everyone has done,” said Gen. Robert Brown, U.S Army Pacific commanding general, and former I Corps commanding general at JBLM. “The more we can accomplish now in terms of deconfliction and risk reduction, makes us more effective when an actual crisis occurs. Our work now will save lives later.”
Brown also commented on multinational responses through the Multinational Coordination Center being the most effective method of response, and the likelihood that participants might find themselves supporting such efforts in the Pacific in a real world natural disaster someday.
“Events like this will absolutely increase practical deconfliction and understanding of each other’s procedures and processes in the event of a real-world disaster,” Brown said. “And there will be another disaster; according to a 2016 UN Report, in just three years ‘One billion people living in the Indo-Asia Pacific will reside in disaster-prone areas classified as high to extreme risk.’ So it’s not a question of if we should be ready, but when we should be ready.
“We never wish for this kind of practical experience, but we use these experiences to improve our responses in the future, as evidenced (at the Disaster Management Exchange).”
For the expert academic discussion, a small team of U.S. military and civilian experts in the field of Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response participated in numerous briefings and site visits in Portland to exchange lessons learned, best practices and mitigation efforts.
During the event, the expert academic discussion participants joined a larger team for the tabletop exchange and practical field exchange portions of the Disaster Management Exchange. Approximately 96 U.S. participants and their People’s Liberation Army counterparts examined how they would best be able to respond to a large-scale disaster.
U.S. Coast Guard personnel started off the practical field exchange with a water rescue demonstration and observed the exchange.
“In the event of a natural disaster that effects the Pacific Northwest Region, we anticipate an all-hands, on-deck effort to overcome that type of scenario,” said Capt. David Berliner, Coast Guard Sector Columbia River deputy commanding officer. “We anticipate that our Coast Guard personnel will work alongside our DOD brethren to provide search and rescue capabilities and supply manpower for relief efforts.”
Major General Zhang Jiang, Peoples Liberation Army Southern Theatre commander, also expressed the importance of the U.S. and China military to military relationship throughout the years that disaster relief discussions or a formal Disaster Management Exchange have taken place.
“This year witnesses the 20th anniversary of the U.S. and China DME,” Jiang said. “We have deepened our mutual understanding and shared the achievements during cooperation and coordination.
“We are very delighted to see that, through the years’ practices, both militaries have deepened our exchanges in area of humanitarian aid and disaster relief.”
In addition to providing a learning opportunity for the U.S. and Peoples Liberation Army participants, the Disaster Management Exchange included military and government observers from Bangladesh, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China.