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U.S., Russia Partner to Strengthen Emergency Disaster Management

FEMA works with EMERCOM on search-and-rescue procedures

By James E Fisher-Thompson | Staff Writer | 21 June 2010
Man standing in front of banks of computers and display screens (FEMA/Chuck Eaneff)

FEMA officials toured the new Russian disaster EMERCOM Operations center in Moscow.

Washington — Despite occasional political differences, the United States and Russia continue to cooperate against a common enemy — natural and man-made disasters that threaten the political and economic well-being of all nations.

Earthquakes, floods, and terrorist acts are disasters that require emergency management, a major task the United States and Russia have been cooperating on for the past 14 years, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director of International Affairs Carole Cameron recently told America.gov.

The official explained the U.S.-Russian partnership goes back to 1996, when the Joint U.S.-Russia Committee on Cooperation in Emergency Management was formed to share information and best practices on issues like search and rescue. The long-standing partnership is now an integral part of the U.S.-Russian Binational Commission established in 2009.

In late May, Cameron traveled with a team of FEMA disaster management experts to meet with Russian counterparts in Moscow at the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Disaster Relief (EMERCOM).

She said the main focus of the Joint Committee gathering, led on the U.S. side by FEMA Deputy Administrator for Protection and Preparedness Timothy W. Manning, was to hold a joint “table top” exercise on disaster management techniques that “will help Russia gain United Nations emergency response certification under the U.N. urban search-and-rescue program.”

Cameron explained a table top exercise is “where you compare and contrast what your policies and procedures are for managing emergency responses. This involves disaster response team transfer to the site, called deployment, technical and medical support of operations, coordination with local authorities and international organizations.

“The exercise was very successful,” she said, because “the Russian managers and their response teams were so highly skilled. But what also impressed me was to see how our management procedures were more alike than different. We do many things in the same way and some differently. For example, we seem to have similar logistical requirements, such as arranging local transportation, setting up base camps and integrating with the larger response operation; and both countries include a canine corps as part of the team.”

One difference is how quickly the teams can deploy, the U.S. official said. “We both know that we have to be at the disaster as quickly as possible. In the United States, our teams are local assets not owned by the federal government and therefore take time to organize for deployments both inside and outside the country. However, in Russia disaster response teams, while stationed throughout the nation, are national government assets managed from a centralized location in Moscow and therefore can deploy more quickly.”

Cameron said FEMA and EMERCOM management specialists also discussed the actions undertaken by the Russian rescue task force that responded to the August 2009 disaster at the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant where a turbine broke apart, flooding the power station and killing 75 workers.

The U.S. official noted that future cooperative work involves a visit by FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate to Russia in July when discussions will include:

• Exchanging best practices in “mass event planning” to better ensure public safety at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
• Developing protocols to better coordinate response operations in a third country.
• Analyzing transportation requirements and techniques in disaster management planning.
• Focusing on children and how to better prepare them for disaster situations.

In addition to the table top exercise, which concluded with the signing of a 2010–2011 Protocol and Work Plan, the FEMA team also visited EMERCOM’s new National Crisis Management Center in the suburbs of Moscow.

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov)

Two men shake hands on either side of table (FEMA/Chuck Eaneff)

FEMA and EMERCOM leaders sign a protocol during a meeting in Moscow