The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) members, including the ten ASEAN Member States, gathered for the third ARF Disaster Relief Exercise (DiREx) in Cha-am, Phetchaburi, Thailand from 7 to 10 May 2013. Using a scenario of 8.9-magnitude earthquake and typhoon, disaster management agencies and emergency responders from civil and military institutions of ARF members exercise their coordination and disaster relief mechanisms. Key actors in disaster relief operation in the Asia and Pacific region, including the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assitance on disaster management (AHA Centre), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, also actively participate in this event.

For the purpose of the exercise, AHA Centre manages an on-site coordination centre, to provide assistance for emergency rapid assessment, facilitate information sharing, and coordinate with ASEAN Member States on resources deployed. The ASEAN-Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT), which consists of experienced assessment personnels from ASEAN Member States, were also deployed to the field exercise to simulate post-disaster assessment and provide detailed information from the field to the Emergency Operations Centre led by the Government of Thailand.  The AHA Centre’s onsite coordination centre is co-located with the United Nations (UN) On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC). ASEAN-ERAT is also deployed together with the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team managed by the UN OCHA.

ARF DiREx 2013 focuses on inter-agency coordination and civil-military coordination. “ARF DiREx is unique as it is by far the most inclusive simulation exercise in the Asia Pacific region. ARF DIREX involves multiple agencies from the ARF members, the civilian and military actors and the international humanitarian players. Coordination issues and complexity of the international humanitarian architecture as exercised in ARF DiREx represent the actual situation when a disaster occurs in the region. Therefore, this unique character of inclusiveness should be mantained in future exercises as part of ARF’s efforts to improve civil military coordination and disaster relief operations among the ARF participants”, Ms. Adelina Kamal, the Head of Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (DMHA) Division of ASEAN Secretariat said during the after-action review.

“ARF DiREx provides as a good opportunity to exercise our ASEAN’s disaster response procedures and mechanisms”, remarked Said Faisal, the Executive Director of AHA Centre. “From this exercise, we are able to identify some useful lessons to improve our support to the ASEAN Member States  and strengthen coordination with other humanitarian players in real disaster situations.” It is the first time for the AHA Centre to play a significant role in the ARF DiREx, following the official launch of the Centre at the 19th ASEAN Summit in November 2011.

Sharing his views on the on-site coordination centre managed by the AHA Centre, Pengiran Hj Shaharuddin Bin Pengiran Hj Metali, a delegate from Brunei Darussalam reflects on his past deployment experience, “I have been deployed to some disaster response missions before, and we did not have such an onsite coordination centre. Now disaster responders from the ASEAN Member States can have a place where we can report to, a workspace, a place where we can get to know responders from our neighboring countries, and where we can get the information that we need. This will help us work better. ”

The event is co-hosted by the Kingdom of Thailand and the Republic of Korea. ARF DiREx is held on a bi-annual basis to strengthen civil-military coordination and disaster relief operation among the 27 ARF members.