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ENVIRONMENT Last modified on December 1, 2013

Relief effort

Dr Teo Babun and James Smith provide a special report on the success of an initiative designed to make airports in the Latin America & Caribbean region more resilient to extreme weather and natural disasters.

We have all witnessed the central role airports can play in a country, city or region’s relief efforts after a natural disaster, accommodating the arrival of vital supplies, equipment and rescue workers, and allowing the sick and injured to be flown to safety.

Perhaps the most high-profile recent examples of this include the role Christchurch International Airport played after the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, and Louis Armstrong New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

When the disaster happens in a country with less developed infrastructure, or in an region more susceptible to natural disasters, such as Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), the role of the airport can become even more important.

This reality led a coalition of concerned organisations – led by FedEx, Miami International Airport (MIA) and American Airlines – to form a public-private partnership to apply lessons from the past to strengthen airports in the LAC Region for the future.

The initiative, developed by AmericasRelief Team (ART), is the Port Resiliency Program or PReP, which it successfully tested for the first time at Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic earlier this year. It can also can be applied to seaports.

Why Latin America and the Caribbean?

As previously mentioned, strong, resilient airports are at the heart of effective response and recovery following a hurricane or other natural disaster.

The tragic aftermath of Hurricane Georges demonstrated just what happens when ports fail. In 1998, Georges swept across the Caribbean as a Category 4 hurricane, devastating Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and the United States, causing 604 deaths and nearly $6 billion in property damage.

Damaged ports greatly complicated the distribution of relief supplies and personnel, slowing the pace of life-saving humanitarian aid. Incapacitated or poorly-functioning ports further delayed the recovery of fragile island economies, creating a ripple effect that deepened the distress of stricken communities.

Since Georges, the lessons of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as of the Haiti earthquake of 2010, have illustrated the full range of negative impacts that damaged ports have on relief efforts.

Compromised airports and seaports seriously disable the local community – indeed the whole country or region – as the very crisis that injures the port impedes recovery.

Critical medical and other evacuations are delayed. Delivery of badly-needed food and supplies is stalled. Trade slows or stops, businesses fail, jobs are lost, and revenue from duties, taxes, and tariffs declines.

The catalyst for the establishment of PReP was the lessons learned from past disasters, most notably the deadly Haiti earthquakes of 2010 and subsequent relief efforts to Port-au-Prince, in which all the founding organisations were involved.

Its sole aim is to work with Caribbean and Latin American airports and seaports to strengthen their ability to respond to – and recover quickly from – a crisis.


What does it do?

PReP facilitates significant, cost-effective improvements by focusing on fortifying current capabilities and building on existing knowledge and relationships.

The programme assists ports in strengthening disaster plans, programmes and procedures through self-assessment, peer assessment, gap analysis, targeted training, customised exercises, and aftercare. These activities have been organised into four phases.

During October 2012 through February 2013, led by AmericasRelief Team and funded by FedEx, PReP completed a highly successful proof-of-concept pilot test with Las Americas International Airport in Santo Domingo.

In Miami in December 2012, leaders from the airport’s stakeholders and the PReP team met in Miami to review the results of the evaluation of the airport’s emergency plans and equipment, identify gaps, and plan highly specific targeted training to address the gaps.

Thirty persons from 15 different organisations actively participated in the workshop and many of them returned in February 2013, when AERODOM hosted the PReP team who conducted the on-site portion of the pilot project.

Dominican’s Instituto Dominicano de Aviacion Civil (IDAC); Airport Security Corps and Civil Aviation (CESAC); Centro de Operaciones de Emergencias (COE); Policia Nacional; Departmento Aeroportuario; and Auxiliares Navales Domincanos were all actively involved in the pilot project, which American Airlines spearheaded, along with Delta Airlines and Menzies Aviation.

Representatives from the US Consular Service, US Embassy, USAID, and FedEx served as observers for the table top exercise in Santo Domingo managed by Florida International University. The exercise scenario was an earthquake and tsunami at 3am.

PReP, which is based in Miami, a city with strong ties to the Caribbean and Latin American region, works closely with airports and seaports to guide them from where they are to where they want to be in terms of preparedness.

Site visits foster support for employees and their families as well as interagency co-operation, rapid damage assessment and mutual aid.

In addition, PReP will fly in participants to attend workshops that incorporate best practices and continuous improvement to ensure optimal interoperability among personnel and agencies facing the complex challenges inherent in restoring ports after a crisis.

PReP also focuses on planning and other efforts to avoid conflict between the demands on an airport of disaster relief and recovery activities and the need to restore normal commercial operations as quickly as possible.

The pilot project resulted in significant changes to improve PReP. Most notably, the participants called for PReP to require the airport being served to develop an action plan based on the lessons learned during the training and exercise.

In addition, the participants urged PReP to become the foundation for airport-to-airport mutual aid in the LAC Region, something similar to the Southeast Airport Disaster Operations Group (SEADOG) and Western Airports Disaster Operations Group (WESTDOG), the two main airport-to-airport disaster operations groups in the US.

At present, PReP has the capacity to serve one airport every two months, depending on funding.

The AmericasRelief Team is now in the process of converting PReP into an aviation industry (and maritime industry) initiative. Airports throughout the LAC Region, North America, and elsewhere in the world are invited to participate as sponsors, sources of skilled instructors, peer reviewers of emergency plans and equipment needs, and mentors.

It was highly encouraging that nearly everyone who participated in the Las Americas pilot test volunteered to mentor future airports that use PReP.

Strong, resilient airports protect vital assets and interests, and they help communities bounce back from disasters. But most of all, strong ports save lives.

About the author

Dr Teo Babun is the executive director of AmericasRelief Team, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation based in Miami. Dr James Smith is the technical director of PReP.

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