Sgt. 1st Class Mary Ferguson
The narrow streets of Kathmandu, Nepal, are rarely quiet.
The city’s 2 million residents move constantly through a maze of buildings, weaving through traffic and trekking over mounds of concrete rubble that permanently reside in front of busy shops and food stands.
The heavily populated city is situated in a region historically active with natural disasters, and if it faced an earthquake, the devastation would be complex and massive.
It’s estimated that more than 100,000 people would potentially be killed with many more injured, and at least 50 percent of the city’s infrastructure would likely be destroyed.
Recognizing the enormous impact such a disaster would bring and the critical need for civil-military preparedness, the Nepalese Army and U.S. Army Pacific, known as USARPAC, conducted the Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange, or DREE, Sept. 9-12, marking the first of its kind in Nepal that included a practical field training evolution.
The exercise was the second humanitarian assistance-disaster relief engagement between the two organizations, and it served as a unified operational follow-up to the tabletop exercise co-hosted by the Nepalese Army and the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) in February.
"As the U.S. ambassador to Nepal, I am very proud of the enduring partnership with our two nations," Ambassador Peter Bodde said.
Adding, "Nowhere is this partnership more important than in the area of natural disasters."
The Nepalese Army’s director general of military operations, Maj. Gen. Padam Bilash Karki, said this exercise was a unity of effort and an opportunity for all stakeholders to enhance bi-lateral and multi-lateral natural disaster preparedness and response efforts.
He added that it is imperative to the people of Nepal and the region that when natural disaster strikes, international communities are able to render support and assistance as quickly as possible.
The DREE’s itinerary was designed to strengthen this collaboration and partnership.
More than 190 participants from the Nepalese Army, USARPAC, III MEF, Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health and Population, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, the U.S. Army Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, seized the opportunity to exchange expertise and put the country’s disaster response plans to an intense, realistic test.
"The people of Nepal trust that we will work as a team," the deputy commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, said.
Adding, "This week has enabled us to work through the processes and procedures developed in past events to ensure a unity of effort. Close coordination and trust will be critical commodities during the execution of these operations."
Following an opening ceremony and a day of subject matter expert talks, the group moved to a cluster of tents at the Nepalese Army headquarters where they conducted a two-day phased field training exercise, or FTX.
The FTX presented participants with the fictitious aftermath of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake that left more than 5,000 people dead and 10,000 injured, and caused more than 20,000 buildings to collapse.
In the scenario, the majority of Kathmandu’s critical roadways and bridges were impassable, water and fuel facilities were compromised, and the city was left powerless. Hospitals were overwhelmed and under-supplied when faced with the mass casualty situation.
The Nepal government activated the Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee, which declared the event a national emergency.
Based on this scenario, the DREE put two day of simultaneous challenges to the different agencies involved in order to practice overall command and control functions and related operations of the Multi-National Military Coordination Centre, the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre, and the National Emergency Operations Centre.
As these entities operated out of the FTX tent site, other participants executed urban search & rescue techniques and practices at the Tribhuvan Interational Airport, engineering assessments at bridges and other damaged infrastructures throughout the city, and medical triage, treatment and evacuations in response to mass casualty conditions at the Birendra Army Hospital and the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.
Prior to the DREE, a team of three soldiers from USARPAC’s 18th Medical Command instructed a four-day Medical First Responder course.
This FTX provided the 25 Nepalese Army troops who graduated from the course with an immediate opportunity to apply and practice what they learned.
The DREE’s ultimate goal was to practically exercise, evaluate and chart the way ahead for the country’s previously developed National Disaster Response Framework, with the Nepalese army and government leading the process and U.S. and international militaries and agencies providing support and assistance.
"While I believe we enjoyed a tremendous success this week, we should not take for granted the enormity of the task ahead," Kennedy said. "The citizens of Nepal are counting on this body of professionals to react with a plan the day the ground starts shaking."
Day four of the exercise was dedicated to interactive after action reviews and presentations targeted at identifying ways to improve the framework and ultimately enhance response and recovery abilities.
"While no one can control when an earthquake will hit, we can plan, and the success of our work and future collaboration will be manifested in our ability to provide expeditious relief, coordinated response, and ultimately in the number of lives saved when a disaster strikes," Bodde said.
He added, "I think we all know where the work lies ahead. We have to plan to do more coordination and get other friendly nations involved. I am confident that this practical exercise and the relationships submitted this week will have a lasting impact on disaster response."