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Benin Works with Local, Regional Organizations for Disaster Response Exercise
Following three days of preparation and briefings, participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise began the collaborative portion of the exercise, testing their ability to work together as a nation and as
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 1 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise participate in a mock press conference, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin.  The press conference was part of a tabletop exercise in which participants were divided into national, regional, and military response teams to practice responding to various fictitious scenarios. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies.  The five-day exercise was led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 2 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise participate in a mock press conference, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin. The press conference was part of a tabletop exercise in which participants were divided into national, regional, and military response teams to practice responding to various fictitious scenarios. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies. The five-day exercise was led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin.  Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies.  The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
3 photos: U.S. AFRICOM Photo
Photo 3 of 3: COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner) Download full-resolution version
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise participate in a mock press conference, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin.  The press conference was part of a tabletop exercise in which participants were divided into national, regional, and military response teams to practice responding to various fictitious scenarios. Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies.  The five-day exercise was led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM). (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
COTONOU, Benin - Participants of a regional response team collaborate on fictitious disaster scenarios as part of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise, June 23, 2010, in Cotonou, Benin.  Taking part in the exercise were military and civilian representatives from Benin and 14 other African nations, along with representatives from several international agencies.  The five-day exercise, led by U.S. AFRICOM with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), was designed to assist the Beninese government and its regional partners with developing and enhancing pandemic disaster response plans. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Danielle Skinner)
Following three days of preparation and briefings, participants of U.S. Africa Command's West Africa Pandemic Disaster Response Exercise began the collaborative portion of the exercise, testing their ability to work together as a nation and as a region to respond to a series of potential disaster scenarios. According to regional cell facilitator Ginny Nagy, Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM), an influenza pandemic has the potential to affect the population's mortality more than any other existing public health threat, thus disrupting society on multiple levels. "Currently, we do not have the capacity to predict the nature, timing, severity, or outcome of a pandemic with great certainty, but the effects can be mitigated by careful preparation and planning," said Nagy. The tabletop exercise was designed to assist the Beninese government and its partners with identifying gaps in their current influenza plan and practice working with regional and interagency partners in responding to potential disasters. Participants were divided into three groups, or response teams (national, regional, and military), corresponding to their roles and responsibilities should a disaster strike in Benin. The national team, called the Complex Humanitarian Emergency Response Team, includes members of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, Benin National Defense Force, as well as local United Nations and interagency organizations. The national team is responsible for decision making, and coordinating response efforts with the other two groups, the military and regional response teams. Regional team focuses on cross-border issues The regional team, called the West Africa Disaster Management Response Team, focuses on cross border and legal framework concerns and includes representatives from other countries that are part of ECOWAS, the African Union, West Africa Health Organization, as well as international United Nations and interagency organizations. Finally, the military team, or Operational and Tactical Response team, is responsible for transportation and security issues and is comprised of one Benin military commander and deputy commander, several military subject matter experts, and members of the Benin District Disaster preparedness team. The national cell is tasked with making decisions and directing the process. Decisions made in this group flow down to the other two groups and are integrated into their response efforts. Military is never in charge The military is never in charge, explained Colonel Dick Olum, director of education for the Uganda People's Defence Force. The military cell takes its direction from the National Task Force, and supports its logistical needs, including transportation, border security, engineering, and other military-related needs that may arise. Olum is one of three facilitators from East Africa who participated in U.S. Africa Command's previous exercise in Uganda in October 2009. Olum, along with Pamela Komujuni from Uganda's National Disaster Management Centre, and Vincent Anami from Kenya's National Disaster Operations Centre, were asked to assist in Benin's exercise by working with the West African teams to enhance its disaster response plan. "Without participation of various stakeholders, it may be very difficult for the government single handedly to handle such a pandemic. Therefore, the international community and the non-governmental organizations all need to be part of the stakeholders," said Olum. International agencies participate Leading the groups alongside the three East African facilitators were experts from U.S. AFRICOM and CDHAM, whose roles were to guide the discussions and keep the groups on track. Also on hand to assist the participants with key decision-making were representatives from local and international agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Komujuni explained that her role as facilitator is not to make decisions but to guide the participants through the process. Her experience from the Natural Fire 2010 exercise in East Africa provided her with the knowledge she needed to facilitate the West Africa Exercise. "I think the organizers were not there to tell us what gaps we have, but they facilitated the process in a way to help us be able to actually find the gaps ourselves," Komujuni said. "So that is one experience that I bring to the West African exercise because I've already seen that West Africa tends to have some of the challenges we've had ourselves." One such challenge, Komujuni explained, is that each ministry has its own response plan, but they are not aware of what the other ones do, or who is in charge. Ugandan officials had the chance to put what they learned during the exercise into practice in March 2010 when a major landslide in eastern Uganda killed hundreds of people and buried homes and buildings. East Africa exercise helped prepare for real-world disaster Komujuni, who works with Uganda's National Disaster Management Centre, said that even after they pulled all of their agencies together, they did not have all the capabilities they needed to respond. The landslide happened deep in the mountains in a village that was inaccessible by road. Based on what they learned at the East Africa exercise, Komujuni and her colleagues were aware of specialties within the military that could help them with the logistics of search and rescue efforts. Komujini and her team called on the military through their military liaison officer and were able to coordinate a search and rescue team from the Army which included doctors and engineers. "Before the exercise, we did not really have well-established knowledge of civil-military relations. During the exercise we had in November in Kampala, we were enlightened. The military briefed us about all the capabilities we have in terms of staff, professionals, and in terms of equipment," said Komujuni. "They emphasized the need for us to work together with the military, and right now it's working so well in Uganda. I think the West Africans really need to build on that." Following a series of morning breakout sessions centering on disaster preparedness, all of the cell groups came together in the afternoon to participate in a mock press conference, responding to questions relating to the various scenarios. Over the next two days, the cell groups will role play the response phase of the disaster, finishing on Friday with recovery and mitigation. The five-day exercise, led by U.S. Africa command with the support of the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine, brought together civilian and military representatives from 15 African nations as well as experts from international agencies to assist in developing and enhancing national and regional pandemic disaster response plans. This exercise is part of a series of engagements led by U.S. Africa Command through its Pandemic Response Program (PRP) to assist African militaries in strengthening their capabilities and capacities to respond to pandemic influenza in the context of a larger national pandemic preparedness and response plan. PRP is funded by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative (H2P) See related article: AFRICOM West Africa Pandemic Response Exercise Kicks Off in Benin
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