Relationship building is key in humanitarian responses

A sailor on a small boat throws a rope to a sailor on a larger vessel.
Leading Seaman Alexy Thibault, Royal Canadian Navy member throws a rope to a United States vessel during a mass casualty exercise as part of Exercise TRADEWINDS in Barbados on June 10, 2017. (Photo: Avr Desiree T. Bourdon, Canadian Forces Joint Imagery Centre)


By Karla Gimby, Communications Advisor at Director Army Public Affairs

When natural disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the Government of Canada can send the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team (CDAT) to the host nation upon invitation. Canada’s responses are needs-based, so assessment is the first necessary step for disaster relief.

On Exercise TRADEWINDS 17, deployed personnel tested their disaster relief and humanitarian assistance skills in the host nation during an earthquake scenario.

“Exercise TRADEWINDS is all about regional capacity building,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Paul Simpson. He is the representative for Canadian Joint Operations Command on the CDAT. “Natural disasters can quickly overwhelm a small nation’s capacity to respond, so by including these scenarios in exercises like this one, national and regional response mechanisms can be exercised and improved.”

The CDAT met with local and international representatives during the scenario. Together, they assessed the needs on the ground and identified potential follow-up response options for the Government of Canada. The CDAT further strengthened ties with counterparts in the region during the activity.

Lieutenant-Colonel Simpson believes that practicing these scenarios is extremely important for all involved. “It allows us to better understand each other’s capabilities, limitations and processes, so when a real-life event happens we will be able to better respond. We are also building the relationships we will need when responding to an actual event.”

The CDAT consists of three experts from Global Affairs Canada and three officers from the Canadian Armed Forces. Most recently the team deployed to Haiti in October 2016 in response to Hurricane Matthew.

“Participating in exercises like TRADEWINDS provides the Government of Canada with insight into how regional and national disaster management institutions and processes function. This is critical information to have in advance of an actual response,” said Farrah Musani. She is the Deputy Director for Natural Disaster Response and Civilian Security Policy Division at Global Affairs Canada.

“We have had an opportunity to share information about the Canadian model for responding to natural disasters abroad, and to promote our approach to civilian-military coordination,” she added. “It has been held up as a gold standard by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.”

Throughout the scenario, the CDAT practiced coordinating with regional partners. Barbados was able to fully exercise civil defence and emergency management procedures.

A significant advantage of CDAT’s participation in Exercise TRADEWINDS 17 was that it built a stronger working relationship on the ground between Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces. It also helped reinforce mutual understanding and connections. All of this will benefit future deployments.

Image gallery

  • A sailor on a small boat looks across the water at people on a dock.
  • A sailor looks up from a small boat with three other passengers towards a large ship with two people on board.
  • A sailor on a small boat prepares to throw a rope as she approaches a larger vessel.
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