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NATO: Eastern Countries Cooperate In Catastrophe Exercise

By Wendy Schatzman

Brussels, 25 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- NATO has hosted a gathering of Eastern partner nations in Brussels for a training exercise simulating a major subway disaster.

The event, part of the NATO Partnership for Peace program (PFP), involved about 100 East European, Caucasian and Central Asian civil emergency services professionals.

Called SUBCAT 98. the exercise took place (overnight Nov. 23-24) under the auspices of NATO's Civil Emergency Planning Directorate. Organizers included the fire brigade of the Brussels region, the local Red Cross, and Belgian police and civil emergency bodies.

The visiting professionals came from a dozen PFP countries --Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Georgia, Armenia and Uzbekistan.

One problem that arose early in the exercise was the difficulty in communication, particularly in the analytical workshops, because not all the Eastern visitors could speak either English or French. Despite that, the exercise went forward effectively and with good humor.

The scene of the action was a suburban subway station of the Brussels metro system. A major disaster scenario was created, with the aim of demonstrating the response of the emergency services to an accident that could happen in any country.

The event was staged in four phases. Phase one was the lead up to, and occurrence of, the accident itself. Phase two was a demonstration of various medical, fire, police and safety units arriving at the scene with medical equipment, radios, and other gear.

Phase three portrayed how the rescue team, put together from different services, worked together, initially by sorting out and classifying the injuries to victims. Phase four of the exercise included evacuation of the casualties.

Asked about the lessons Eastern experts could learn from the exercise, Arild Kovdol of NATO's Joint Medical Committee said he believed the key lessons relate to organizational issues and inter-service cooperation.

"I think they will see a lot of new things about how to work together on site when there is a major accident or a catastrophe. A lot of the countries (in the East) have experienced doctors and in some places a lot of equipment, so I think it is more on the organizational level that they will learn lessons here."

Among the Eastern participants was Tamari Abesadze, medical director for the Fire Service Department in Tbilisi, Georgia. She said she felt the actual catastrophe demonstration was staged too slowly. But she added: "This is very interesting and informative for us, because our emergency medical service is still in the formulating stage."

Another participant was Viktor Lysenko, director of Ukraine's Clinical Crisis Psychology department at the State Institute for Health. He called the simulation very useful as a training exercise because of the frequency with which his and other East European countries suffered natural and technological disasters.

Romania's Domitru Vaduva, an engineer with the Civil Protection Service in Bucharest, said he was pleased at the way the exercise was divided into sections, each of which was then examined at seminars.