By Joe Iandoli, Planning Branch Chief, FEMA Region VI and
Candice Abinanti, International Relations Specialist, International Affairs Division
FEMA is well respected by emergency management organizations around the world, and leadership and staff are frequently invited to international seminars, conferences and meetings in other nations. I recently returned from Thailand, where I attended the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center River Delta Conference.
This conference was a unique opportunity to collaborate with emergency management professionals from Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia.
In addition to providing information about flood mitigation in the Mississippi River Delta to conference attendees, I sought to establish relationships and benefit from the knowledge and experience provided by the professionals from other nations. In this particular conference, representatives from Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Australia, Indonesia and Mozambique were in attendance.
In many respects, the River Delta Conference reminded me of a Regional Interagency Steering Committee (RISC) meeting held regularly by FEMA Regional offices. The conference encouraged collaboration among the nations just as we at FEMA try to encourage collaboration among the states and Emergency Support Functions.
The conference encouraged best practice sharing and networking among nations with similar river delta flooding issues. National representatives openly presented the issues they face whether because of demographics, politics, policy, terrain, weather, economics or training. Presenters had about 45 minutes total; but they were allowed to brief for a maximum of 12 minutes. The remaining time was used for the audience to discuss the subject, challenge the speaker or build upon the concepts presented.
Among the range of challenges and solutions presented were Malaysia’s construction of a tunnel – called the SMART Project – to relieve traffic congestion, divert and store flood waters in Kuala Lumpur, and The Netherlands’ “Room for the River” approach, which moves dikes to restore floodplains and create urban parks. Since 2007, Malaysia’s project has saved over $500 million dollars in potential damages. In Mozambique, the nation depends more on innovative solutions because of resource constraints. Ambulances, for example, consist of volunteer bicyclers with what looks like a reinforced lounge chair attached.
This was my third international assignment. On each trip, I believe I have received much, much more from my colleagues than any kind of benefit I may have provided. For more information about the Conference, visit the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center.