We need to share information on mechanisms and regulations on domestic search and rescue to save lives.

“Better Asia-Pacific disaster response polices and coordination are needed to enhance search and rescue capacity in the region,” was the key point made by a senior Vietnamese official at an APEC emergency preparedness workshop last week in Nha Trang. 

Search and rescue officials came together on Thursday and Friday to exchange information on practices that will improve mechanisms for cooperation on emergency response procedures.  Improving these processes will have the added benefit of promoting supply chain reliability and strengthening connectivity.  

Viet Nam’s Vice Minister for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Hoang Van Thang, highlighted the connection between economic growth, increased sea traffic, and disasters induced by climate change.

“We have witnessed great losses of life and property due to maritime accidents and disasters at sea,” Mr Thang told delegates at the APEC Capacity Building Workshop on Search and Rescue at Sea.

Sea transport is a major component in global supply chains with the majority of goods traded across borders by ship, but there is an inherent risk associated with this mode of transportation. Mr Thang said APEC economies can make sea lanes and ports safer by working together.

Emergency preparedness is priority for APEC and has been an important annual point made by Leaders having been first higlighted in the Vancouver Leaders’ Declaration in 1997. This workshop contributes to the call by APEC Leaders in 2012 highlighting the importance of fostering greater scientific and technical cooperation in diaster preparedness, and the need to develop common standards for emergency early warning systems in regional transportation. This workshop also contributes to promote connectivity, one of the priorities of APEC 2013.

“New approaches and technologies in search and rescue and disaster response are needed,” said Mr Thang. “This is why we need to share information on mechanisms and regulations on domestic search and rescue to save lives.”

In order to confront these threats, delegates at the workshop were supportive of efforts to expand information sharing on emergency response, weather forecasting and early warning systems among member economies.

Philippines Coast Guard Captain, Angel F. Lobaton IV, presented the details of a range of measures that would be effective in strengthening regional readiness.

“To prepare for disasters at sea, we continue to conduct training exercises, perform preventative maintenance to keep assets and equipment to ensure operational readiness, and forward deploy personnel to strategic locations and response centers,” Captain Lobaton said at the workshop.

“These mitigation measures have been effective to the extent that no large passenger ferry and cargo vessels experienced casualties since 2009.”

“Similar to other economies, we need to improve storm warning systems for small fishing vessels that are already at sea and likewise continue to enforce early evacuation efforts in low lying and disaster prone areas,” he continued.

Preparedness at the local level through sharing information and utilizing new technologies was highlighted by a senior representative from Quang Nai Province, Phan Van On.

“It is important to build capacity at the provincial level along the coastline of Viet Nam,” he said.

“Learning from other APEC members improves our awareness of disaster prevention, in particular at the community level.”

“New technology and equipment would help to ensure the effectiveness of our efforts and operations,” he continued, highlighting the value of human life. “The cost of search and rescue equipment and software should not outweigh the cost of saving a life.” 

APEC Emergency Preparedness Working Group Co-Chair, Dr Nguyen Huu Phuc, argued that lives will be saved if economies work together and establish practical measures.

“Important tools such as the system to share information among member economies, domestic and foreign agencies that focus on emergency response, weather forecasting, early warning systems and international cooperation are critical in this dialogue,” said Mr Thang.

“Within 72 hours after a disaster strikes, we quickly mobilize rescue teams to save those who face danger,” said Japan Coast Guard Commander Masanori Hisaki. “Afterward, we publicize safety information related to maritime traffic,” address navigational obstacles at sea by cooperating with related agencies who manage ports and harbors.”

“A very important element for implementing these programs involves sufficient government funding to support search and rescue operations,” said Dr Phuc.

This workshop presented an opportunity for member economies to exchange views and share information on mechanisms and regulations on domestic search and rescue as well as the procedures and the process to support search and rescue with the engagement of foreign partners to enhance the effectiveness, assistance and expansion of search and rescue among APEC member economies.

“Our mission is to protect the Thai people by mitigating against disaster at a global standard,” said Pannapa Na Nan of Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation. “To do so, we build and develop disaster management systems, educate the public, support affected people and help with rehabilitation and recovery.”

“International and rescue teams work side-by-side with one another,” added Commander Alan Toh of the Singapore Civil Defence Force. “When so many stakeholders are involved, cooperation in the key to success and to saving more lives.”

Participants agreed that challenges and standards across economies will persist. Nonetheless, there were proposals to address these issues in future workshops. 

“There is a need for focal points in member economies to facilitate the flow of fast information so that search and rescue operations can be executed more efficiently,” suggested Commander Lobaton.

Dr Phuc proposed that the Emergency Preparedness Working Group will continue its joint efforts for capacity building and seek to develop guidelines for search and rescue operations at sea.

On Friday, officials undertook an exercise on Cam Ranh Bay that provided a practical perspective to policy discussion on cooperation in times of disaster.