Representatives from the United Republic of Tanzania's government and military gathered for the five-day United Republic of Tanzania Disaster Preparedness Exercise held in Bagamoyo from 3-7 February. The goal of the exercise is to assist with the validation of the recently drafted Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan, the Tanzanian People’s Defense Forces (TPDF) Pandemic Contingency Plan and the Military Support to Civil Authorities (MSCA) Disaster Contingency Plan and to increase awareness of disaster preparedness and response challenges. Other African partner nations including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda participated in this exercise as subject matter experts and facilitators. The exercise was organized by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and implemented by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), based in the U.S.
The exercise was essential for disaster preparedness and to enhance response capabilities, a key component of the AFRICOM Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP) designed to support African nations’ capacity to respond to pandemics and other disasters.
“This exercise is important because we’re learning how to work together and figuring out where the gaps are that need improvement,” said Lt. Gen. Sylvester Rioba, Tanzania Prime Minister’s Office Disaster Management Department director.
During the five days, representatives were given scenarios that evolved. This particular exercise was a combination of a pandemic influenza virus and other con-current disaster events such as flooding and population displacement.
To reinforce the need for inter-agency cooperation to achieve effective responses to disasters, coordination from five different functional groups is used in the exercise.
There are five functional groups. The first group, “Operations,” usually at a higher level of government that has command and control, coordinates response, and tasks and directs other groups to respond.
The second group, “Health,” is made of health and medical experts and provides consultation and technical information to leadership and communications, provides measures and guidance for when people should seek medical attention, and provides information to the public for health recommendations for prevention measures and mass fatalities.
The third group, “Communications,” provides information management and public announcements to get the word out to mass media and populations.
The fourth group, “Logistics,” is in charge of supplies, storage of food and equipment as well as transportation.
And the fifth group, “Security,” provides public safety and border control - usually, national military, police and immigration.
Through the course of the week, the groups were given additional evolving scenarios in which they needed to further develop their responses.
Partnership with other countries is a necessity during times of disaster.
“AFRICOM has worked with about 20 countries in Africa, planning exercises and engagements,” said Michael Hryshchyshyn, Chief of Humanitarian and Health Activities for AFRICOM. “We facilitate the planning process and develop an exercise that will test those plans to ensure efficacy.”
Through exercises and workshops, each country’s functional groups are able to better prepare for disasters.
After the functional groups completed their responses to the current situation, each of them briefed senior leaders to determine if their responses were in line with the plans being validated. The program assists Tanzania to identify what gaps currently exist in their plans and how to reduce them within the next five years. A key outcome from this week is the development of a draft multi-year Disaster Management Strategic Work Plan.
“We have been and will remain your strategic partners in disaster planning and we will see you through any crisis together with trust, friendship and a shared commitment to the safety and well-being of the people of Tanzania,” said Daniel Moore, Deputy Mission Director for USAID with the U.S. Embassy in Bagamoyo.
The partnership with other African countries is essential to promoting regional level collaboration.
“In the long run, this exercise will pave the way for further planning in the different functional groups, eventually making Tanzania a safer place to live,” said Rioba.