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Soldiers and civilians complete disaster management workshop in Botswana
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Image by US Army Africa

Soldiers and civilians complete disaster management workshop in Botswana

By Lt. Col. Chris Wyatt

GABORONE, Botswana – Officials from North Carolina held a disaster consequence management workshop with members of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and several civil agencies at Sir Seretse Khama Barracks in Gaborone, Botswana, March 26, 2010.

Thirty Botswana civilians and BDF officers participated in the workshop which was led by Lt. Col. John Callaway, a guardsman from North Carolina who is also the deputy fire chief for Wake County, and Bill Gentry from the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The week-long event included the exchange of ideas, examples of past disaster responses in the United States and Botswana as well as a simulated disaster exercise. This seminar follows a related disaster management event held in Gaborone last year.

Gentry and Callaway both work in disaster management in North Carolina. The seminar, part of an ongoing military-to-military program, was made possible in large part due to the existing State Partnership Program (SPP) relationship between the state of North Carolina and the government of Botswana.

This event was part of a broader effort to expand civilian interaction fostered under the SPP. The Botswana participants in the event serve in numerous BDF units and come from several civilian agencies, including the Gaborone Fire Service, the Gaborone District Disaster Management Committee, the Botswana Police Service and the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana.

The BDF is a key part of the government of Botswana’s response to natural disasters. In the past 18 months the BDF has rescued residents of the Okavango Delta region after 70 year high water levels in the delta, fought veld fires across the Kalahari and evacuated residents of the Chobe region in the northeast. Its unique ability to deploy personnel and stage equipment throughout the country from its existing installations and through its ground transport as well as its fixed and rotary wing airlift capacity has made the BDF a valuable instrument in preparing for and dealing with disasters in Botswana.

Civilian agencies within the government of Botswana also have prominent roles in the nation’s response to disasters. According to participants, the interaction between civil agencies and the military was beneficial.

"The most useful part of the seminar was learning the capacity each agency brings to the disaster management team. I was surprised to learn the BDF has trucks, helicopters, blankets and many other items which aid during crises," said Kelebileone M. Kelailwe, assistant district officer in Gaborone and deputy chairperson of the Gaborone District Disaster Management Committee.

Toro A. Baitse, deputy fire chief in Gaborone found the most interesting and valuable part of the event to be "seeing how different organizations will work together; who leads, who is in charge."

The keynote speaker at the closing ceremony, Brigadier George Tlhalerwa, chief of staff, Defence Logistics Command, explained the vital importance of national, regional and local level capacity to anticipate, prepare for and respond to disasters.

"Our country, Botswana, has had its share of man-made and natural disasters. Around the world you see men and women grappling with these challenges, and you will be expected to do the same in Botswana" he told seminar participants. "We must take advantage of opportunities such as this workshop to sharpen our skills to be best prepared when called upon. This is important so that you know what to do and how to do it when called upon."

Tlhalerwa brings a great deal of experience to this subject, having recently served as chairman of the National Disaster Management Coordination Committee.

"I take personal interest in this subject as a logistician because mobilization of resources (a key factor in disaster management) requires logistics capacity" said Tlhalerwa. He complimented the role Americans play in dealing with disasters when he said, "the U.S. faces a lot of natural disasters, like hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and you can see in their training and how they perform that the National Guard and the military take their role seriously. It is about saving lives and protecting property."

Addressing both the officers and the members of the gathered civilian agencies Tlhalerwa also noted that "we in the BDF, as any professional military, take part and play a large role in saving lives and property."

PHOTO CAPTION: Photo Credit: Lt. Col. Chris Wyatt.

GABORONE, Botswana – Bill Gentry of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health observes an exercise briefing while surrounded by officers from the Botswana Defence Force on March 23, 2010. Gentry was in Botswana to conduct a disaster consequence management seminar with military and civilian officials from the government of Botswana.

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