By Andrew R. Slaten, Deputy Director, FEMA International Affairs
For two days, Nov. 13-14, 2012, representatives from five countries—Canada, Japan, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand—joined with representatives from FEMA , USAID/OFDA, and HHS to explore the challenges involved in exchanging international Search and Rescue teams following a catastrophic disaster. Co-hosts Carole Cameron, Director of International Affairs, and Fred Endrikat, Chief, FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Branch Chief, welcomed the group and laid out the challenges such as tort liability, credentialing and licensure, that the U.S. government faces when bringing in foreign first responders.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate was the keynote speaker and challenged the group to think creatively and search for an appropriate solution for the U.S. that could also serve as a paradigm for other countries facing the same challenges. “How do we bring (first responders) in fast enough to make a difference based upon the hazards? All of us need to build this capability and go from an aid model to the response model. You do not want to be waiting with teams ready to go when the bureaucrats are finding reasons why they cannot go. I want the focus of this dialog to be on the outcomes, not on the processes that do not work. Clear the red tape, and get the yes.”
Lessons learned were shared from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Accident, the 2011 Christ Church Earthquake, and the 2010 Australian Floods and Wildland Fires. Guidance documents such as the United States’ International Assistance, the European Union’s Host Nation Support Guidelines, the Swedish Blue Ribbon Report on Accepting International Assistance were discussed and analyzed for possible legal and procedural ways forward in addressing the challenges.
The importance of the discussions was brought home vividly by Administrator Fugate when he said, “At the same time we were dedicated to Sandy, there was concern of a earthquake in Alaska, at the time over 1.3 of the search and rescue personnel were dedicated to Sandy. Our current protocols would not allow for getting people in in a timely manner. Only two teams had the understanding and clearances to help had they been needed. The goal here is to clear the red tape and help people; we need to do this before the President announces we are in need of assistance".
Representatives from Canada, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand and Australia join hosts Fred Endrikat and Carole Cameron at the 2013 FEMA International SAR Workshop.