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News | Sept. 28, 2022

Oklahoma Guard, Azerbaijan Participate in Disaster Response Exercise

By Jay Field

Subject matter experts from the Oklahoma National Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers traveled to Baku for an emergency response workshop and exercise Sept. 20-22.

The event was coordinated with the U.S. Embassy Baku and the U.S. Department of Defense Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness program under the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s Institute for Security Governance.

The seven-member U.S. team worked with first responders to improve national and international cooperation in Azerbaijan in emergency planning and preparedness. The workshop culminated with a tabletop exercise to challenge the nearly two dozen participants.

The Oklahoma National Guard has a 20-year partnership with Azerbaijan helping the country build military capability under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. During the workshop, the Guard shared its experiences battling wildland fires and helping Oklahoma communities deal with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other emergencies.

“All of the participants at this event understand the importance of civil defense matters, as natural disasters happen unexpectedly and can be of tremendous magnitude,” said Maj. Gen. Niyazi Zamanov, head of the Department of Civil Defense in the Azerbaijan Ministry of Emergency Situations. “We have to be prepared in order to minimize the impacts of such disasters.”

The exercise scenario involved an earthquake causing widespread damage in a mountainous region of the country during winter. The tabletop exercise included representatives from government agencies, led by the Ministry of Emergency Situations.

“We in the U.S. have many of the same challenges as Azerbaijan when working with the media and coordinating with multiple agencies throughout a natural disaster event,” said Christine Altendorf, Army Corps of Engineers director of military programs. “That’s why planning is so important.”

Altendorf said the atmosphere in the workshop was about sharing, learning and making all participants better. She is responsible for the execution of USACE’s worldwide program for engineering, construction, real estate, and environmental activities in support of the Army, Air Force, other Department of Defense and federal agencies, and foreign nations.

The exercise allowed the Azerbaijan government to improve planning and preparedness for disasters. It was conducted in cooperation with the Civil-Military Emergency Preparedness program, which supports NATO partner nations in building capacity for disaster preparedness.

“All of the Azerbaijan individuals we worked with are very skilled professionals, and this workshop and exercise provided them with the opportunity to continue to collaborate with their colleagues from other organizations,” said Diane Acurio, USACE project leader. “I believe this event was very successful in that it brought together a number of people who will work closely together in future crisis response efforts.”

Acurio has led CMEP events in Azerbaijan since 2008, fostering an enduring relationship with emergency response professionals in the country.