During spring, 1996, Mongolia experienced an extreme wildfire season, far exceeding normal fire activity levels. Millions of hectares of valuable grazing land and forest were burned, lives lost, families left homeless, and thousands of livestock perished. During this period, the government of Mongolia requested international assistance and the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance sent a two person assessment team to Mongolia. Based on that assessment, two recommendations were developed with an objective of strengthening overall disaster response capability in Mongolia: 1) provide emergency incident management training using the Incident Command System to the Civil Defense Committee of Mongolia, and 2) provide communication equipment and training in the use and deployment of this equipment during disaster situations to Civil Defense. The United States Agency for International Development approved funding for implementation of the recommendations and expressed support for a more regional application of the Incident Command System by including a representative from the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center on the project team. During the period 18 September – 26 October 1996 a seven-person team worked in partnership with the Civil Defense Committee of Mongolia to accomplish the project objectives. (See also Wild Fires in Mongolia 1996 and Mongolia Fire Update in the previous issue of IFFN)
A four person instructor cadre from the United States Forest Service conducted two 32-hour training course sessions on the Incident Command system, an emergency incident management system used in the United States for disaster response. The training was held in the Civil Defense building in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and included translated materials and interpreters. The Civil Defense Committee of Mongolia sponsored the course and their staff was actively involved in course preparations, translations of course materials, and selection of trainees. A total of 61 persons attended, representing a cross section of agencies involved in disaster response.
A two person instructor cadre from the United States Forest Service and the United States Bureau of Land Management conducted two 24-hour training sessions on emergency response communication systems and communication equipment use. This training was also sponsored by Civil Defense and utilized translated materials and interpreters. The course included actual “hands-on” use of the communications equipment. A total of 21 persons completed this training.
A communication equipment package was donated to the Mongolia Civil Defense. This equipment will meet basic emergency response needs for one or two provinces, depending on the complexity of the incident.
A country-wide disaster communications plan was prepared and presented to the Mongolia Civil Defense Committee. This plan includes a description of the current emergency response communication system; recommendations for development of a more effective system that would meet the needs for logistic, operational, and national coordination communication links; training and development needs; establishment and use of radio cache systems; maintenance requirements for the communication system; identification of specific communications equipment required to meet the information flow needs during a disaster; and costs for purchasing recommended equipment. A copy of this plan was given to other potential foreign donor groups to encourage additional funding to augment the initial equipment donation of the United States.
Demonstrations of communications equipment were conducted for interested foreign donor groups to encourage consideration of additional funding to purchase the required equipment recommended in the country-wide disaster communications plan.
A field demonstration of communication equipment was conducted in the Hovsgol province. Use of equipment was demonstrated in remote, mountainous terrain, and local Civil Defense employees were trained in equipment use.
The manager of the Learning and Professional Development Unit of the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center participated in the design stage of the Incident Command System training course and in the implementation phases of both the Incident Command System and communications training courses. The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center is considering including the Incident Command System as part of its disaster management training curriculum.
Results and Analysis
Both training courses were well received by the participants. The Incident Command system training generated many questions concerning the framework within which the system operates, such as the existence of policy or legislation mandating the use of the Incident Command System in the United States, cooperative operating agreements between agencies, pre-designated emergency response teams, etc. The communication equipment donation addressed a critical need of the Civil Defense for emergency response. Communication links are mandatory for effective emergency incident response and the country’s dire lack of communication equipment during the 1996 spring wildfire disaster was well publicized by the international media.
After 75 years of communist government and centralized economy, Mongolia is in a transition period to a market economy. Since the election last June, when Mongolia voted in its first Democratic government, many agencies are experiencing dramatic change both in structure and personnel. Senior level personnel in many agencies have been replaced with new appointees and newly created departments are just now defining their role and mission. This transition period is optimal for creating new governmental frameworks and legislation for more effective emergency response management.
From: Ms. Deanne Shulman Fire Management Specialist Address: Sequoia National Forest Cannell Meadow Ranger District United States Forest Service P.O. Box 3 USA – Kernville, CA 93238