United States Army Pacific soldiers joined an international team to conduct an earthquake-readiness exercise in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia April 4-8.
Exercise Gobi Wolf 2016 was a civil-military disaster preparedness and response initiative focused on regional readiness in response to natural and man-made disasters.
Gobi Wolf is part of the Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange program, which focuses on interagency coordination and foreign humanitarian assistance.
The exercise is designed to test disaster response processes while maximizing realism through a series of scenarios.
The specific scenario simulated for Gobi Wolf 2016 was a severe earthquake that hit the mining city of Erdenet, the third largest city in Mongolia.
The simulated earthquake also affected the capital city of Ulaanbaatar, but the epicenter was much closer to Erdenet.
Service members and civilians from U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Army Alaska, the Alaska Army National Guard, Alaska Air National Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the United States Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance joined more than 100 participants from 30 governmental, non-governmental, municipal and military agencies from Mongolia, the U.S. and international relief agencies to participate in the disaster response exercise and exchange.
The U.S., Japanese, Republic of Korea and Nepalese service members and governmental civilians served as disaster-response focus group facilitators to international groups, focusing on communication and media support, military support to humanitarian assistance and national emergency management.
“In addition to supporting the capacity building for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, this is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships and promote interagency coordination with our Mongolian partners,” said Andrew R. Benziger, the chief of readiness and contingency operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pacific Ocean Division.
The two primary objectives of Gobi Wolf were to promote interagency coordination and civil-military coordination between the National Emergency Management Agency, the Mongolia Armed Forces, the U.S. and others, and to increase the Mongolian government’s knowledge of what would be available to them as international tools and services to support government-led disaster-response efforts.
Scott Aronson, the senior humanitarian assistance advisor to United States Pacific Command with USAID OFDA said, “Based on the situation on the ground, it can take only a few hours after a disaster to meet the required nation-level agreements for OFDA to begin to respond. We have warehouses throughout the world stocked with disaster response supplies which, based on needs assessments from the impacted nation, we can begin to move into affected areas within a few hours of a disaster.”
Mongolia has hosted Gobi Wolf since 2009 and conducted joint exercises with the U.S.Pacific Command, covering disaster scenarios common to Mongolia including earthquakes, train derailment and mining incidents, said Mongolian Brig. Gen. Tuvshin Badral, the chief of NEMA.
“This was a great opportunity to network with other people who would be involved with disaster relief in the event of an emergency,” said Uuganbayar Ganbaatar, an airport administrator with the Mongolian Civil Aviation Authority at Ulaanbaatar International Airport.
The four-day exercise included disaster risk and multi-agency capacity briefs, a table-top exercise, and field training events in Ulaanbaatar and Erdenet.
The scenario tested Mongolian search and rescue capability and evacuation readiness by simulating a dam failure.
The exercise evaluated Mongolia’s disaster readiness through five separate focus areas, including national emergency management, media relations/communication, military considerations, first responder, and international government and non-governmental agencies.
The five workgroups spent the exercise responding to scenario events to evaluate how the 30 agencies involved would respond to assist affected populations in an actual earthquake. The strengths and weaknesses identified are being recorded and will be analyzed to improve disaster-response planning.
The exercise brought in subject matter experts from Nepal and Japan, drawing on their experience from recent severe earthquakes.
“In disaster circumstances, the international community is ready and willing to offer additional support, and we are pleased that many non-governmental organizations are participating in this exercise as their assistance will also be vital should disaster strike,” said Jennifer Zimdahl Galt, the U.S. Ambassador to Mongolia.
Gobi Wolf is part of U.S. Army Pacific’s Pacific Resilience program, USARPAC’s main platform for identifying best practices and lessons learned across the humanitarian assistance/disaster relief spectrum. Its mission is to enhance all parties’ abilities to respond and recover from an emergency situation.