NATO & Disaster Response

Jul 15, 2007

Idassa 2007 Croatia

IDASSA 2007 is the second Natural Disaster exercise that the Republic of Croatia, in cooperation with NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coord­ina­tion Centre (EADRCC), has organized on its territory. The majority of Croatian work for the exercise was organized and conducted by the National Protection and Reserve Directorate.

Croatioan Civil Protection Team on IDASSA exercise. (Photo: Dino Stanin)

Croatia had previously organized a field exercise called Taming the Dragon – a Croatian contribution to the Partnership Work Programme. The May 2002 exercise, based on wildfires, was aimed at preparing for one of the most common risks in southeastern Europe and took place prior to the typical wildfire “season.”

Exercise IDASSA 2007 was conducted exactly five years later at several locations in the coastal Zadar county of Croatia and in the city of Zadar. The name “IDASSA” means Zadar in ancient Greek.

Approximately 1,200 participants (including more than 120 observers) from 44 countries were divided into 55 teams for the event. The fictional scenario for this exercise combined a devastating earthquake, aggravated by chemical leaks in an industrial seaport, with a further threat of terrorists using a biological agent onboard a passenger plane.

“IDASSA 2007 allowed NATO and partner countries to practice disaster response mechanisms and capabilities and to enhance co-operation in emergency situations,” says Mr. Damir Trut, Director of the IDASSA 2007 exercise and Deputy Assistant for Croatia’s National Protection and Rescue Directorate.

The exercise scenario was designed to test best practices of simultaneous response to a natural disaster combined with the complications of a terrorist threat – providing an opportunity for civilian responders and military units to work together.

Within this exercise, NATO and partner nations practiced the EADRCC procedures. The Centre was created in 1998 for coordinating disaster relief efforts for the member countries of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in the event of a natural or technological disaster in the EAPC geographical area. Since 2000, EADRCC has organized eight similar international natural disaster exercises and IDASSA 2007 is the largest such exercise.

“As far as organization and hosting of such natural disaster exercise goes,” says Mr Trut, “we simply offered our assistance to NATO and the Alliance accepted it. Not all participating countries have the necessary abilities or capacities to organize an event of such scope.”

Director of the Exercise, Mr. Damir Trut, chats with President of the Republic of Croatia, Mr. Stjepan Mesic. (Photo: Dino Stanin)

As it would be in a real situation, host nation support was vital to the success of the exercise. In this case, Mr Trut, believes that national support resulted in uniting and streamlining the efforts of several state ministries, ensuring, for example: unhindered arrival of foreign teams and participants, rapid issuing of visas and border passage, transportation to the camp where participants were situated, constant medical support (both on exercise locations and in the camp) and communications support.

“Although Croatia is not yet a NATO member, I think we’re already acting as an ally,” says Trut. “There is very extensive cooperation between NATO and Croatia and we participate in more or less all major activities of the Alliance. We regard this exercise as our Croatian contribution to the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).”

Exercise Scenario
The fictional scenario this year was a combination of several elements.

Croatia’s coastal town of Zadar is hosting a high-profile charity music festival attended by international personalities and more than half a million guests from all over the world.

On May 18 at 20:43, just before the festival is to start, an earthquake of magnitude 6.5 on the Richter scale hits southern Croatia. The earthquake results in heavy damage to housing, as well as to elements of critical infrastructure of the area. There is damage to the electricity grid, the high-pressure water line, telephone lines and the GSM network. The roads are covered by rockslides and debris from fallen buildings. Railway traffic has been suspended. The charity festival is cancelled and guests are evacuated to other parts of the country.

The Government of Croatia requests international assistance from the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. The request specifies a need for Search and Rescue (SAR) and medical teams, as well as camp necessities for approximately 10,000 displaced people.

Notwithstanding the damage to the industrial sea port of Zadar caused by the fictional earthquake, styrene (a toxic liquid material used in the manufacture of plastic and fibreglass) is reloaded from a commercial tanker into tanks in the port. At around 09:30 on May 21st, an undetected crack in the pipeline allows styrene to seep into land and sea. The spill starts spreading towards the sea town of Bibinje. The spill trail also spreads to railway carriages full of petrol in the vicinity and catches fire. Several explosions occur, damaging industrial facilities in the port of Gazˇenica. Many workers are poisoned and injured. A toxic cloud starts moving towards the town of Bibinje.

Adding to the challenge, the fire spreads to the ship carrying the styrene load, causing an explosion. As a consequence, its fuel leaks into the sea, while fire-fighters attempt to extinguish the fire on the ship.

Austrian firefighters localize volatile material with reloaded styrene. (Photo: Zoeavika Tecic)

Meanwhile, an airplane flying from Denver via London to Frankfurt is hijacked over Germany. The hijackers tell flight control that the airplane is to proceed towards Lime Island (scenario name) in the Indian Ocean. However, due to lack of fuel, the airplane is forced to land at the Zadar airport on May 22nd for re-fuelling. Croatian Police Forces manage to subdue the hijackers (seven hijackers and 30 passengers are injured in this operation). Later an individual, claiming to represent the hijackers, places a call to the Zadar airport authorities informing them that the hijackers have some deadly biological material that they intend to release into the environment if the police attempt to take control of the airplane. The individual placing the threat on the phone seems unaware that the plane has already been taken by the Croatian police.

The whole exercise lasted four days, with key events taking place from 21st until the 23rd of May.

The last day of the exercise (24 May) was a “demo day” where all teams conducted joint demonstrations, presenting their special competence and equipment to VIP guests and observers.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) participated in the exercise – as did representatives of the European Commission. All teams were situated in camp Soline near Biograd throughout the exercise.

According to Trut, the majority of the participants in IDASSA 2007 were civilian first responders, SAR (search and rescue) teams, fire fighting teams, medical/paramedical teams, CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) teams, decontamination teams, water-­rescue diver teams, etc. In addition to the civilian teams, two EAPC nations deployed military units.  There was a military sampling laboratory from Belgium and a detection and decontamination unit from Slovakia (CBRN).

Besides Croatia, which participated with 179 participants on 20 different teams, several other countries had high participation. These included: Austria (69 participants and 23 vehicles), Hungary (33 participants, 3 search dogs and 10 vehicles) and Sweden (33 participants and 11 vehicles).

SAR team participant searches for survivors in ruins of fictitious earthquake. (Photo: Dino Stanin)

Participation of the national and international Red Cross teams was crucial – as it would be in a real situation of mass injured and wounded citizens. For exercise purposes, in camp Bosˇana, near Biograd, the Croatian Red Cross sheltered earthquake victims with complete and independent infrastructure (water, electricity, accommodation). Also of note, a Swedish team built a camp hospital in the vicinity for the “severely injured.”         

Working hours for participants were limited to 12 hours per day (from 6 am until 6 pm), though it was acknowledged by all that in real situations there is no such limitation.

The Assessors Team, comprised of 22 experts from 11 countries, closely observed the entire exercise. The team evaluated activities of all participants and is in the process of detailing a final exercise analysis. The results of this analysis will be dispatched to participants in order to understand and implement all lessons learned into future response procedures.

Mr. Benjamin MacLean, part of a Canadian delegation to NATO, was a partici­pant on the Assessor Team.

IDASSA 2007 was a purely fictitious scenario and wasn’t based on any perceived threat from any given country. Because of its fictitious nature, there were no “real” deployments of control and emergency responders during the exercise. “Bear in mind,” says Trut “that all participants, both on emergency responding teams and in the management section, work in the protection sector in their countries.” Medical teams were the only true emergency responders participating in the exercise.

CBRN team rescues victim. (Photo: Zdravka Tecic)

As Director of IDASSA 2007, Mr Trut is confident that all exercise objectives were entirely fulfilled. “The coordinated local, national and international agencies and the operations centre did their jobs superbly,” he says. “Their coordination was impeccable and there were no major problems or setbacks.”

According to the First Impression Report that just arrived from NATO headquarters, the IDASSA 2007 exercise was complete success as well. “Partici­pants showed, once more, that it’s possible to work together as one big-scale international unit, as one team,” says Trut with obvious pride.

“I second Mr. Maurits Jochems, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of NATO, who stated at the exercise that civil emergency planning is mostly a national responsibility, but that during such an exercise, first responders, firefighters, and medical personnel – all the heroes on the ground – can train their own procedures and, more importantly, they can learn from each other. After all, natural disasters and catastrophes know no national borders.”  

According to Trut, due to Croatia’s unfortunate recent war experience, general readiness to deal with emergencies was already at a very high level. Nevertheless, with this exercise, “we accomplished something that Croatia can be proud of, and we have set new standards for similar exercises in the future in all aspects of organization.”

Multinational Communication
There was no need for particular translation facilities during IDASSA 2007, says Trut. “All teams that participated in the exercise used one working language – English. Each team had its communication officer on field who received orders from authorities and/or other teams and transmitted them to his/her team members. In my opinion, some additional translation office or facility would slow down the rescuing process, counter-productive in the situation where time is of the essence.”

Members of Bosnia's Red Cross help an "injured" particiapnt. (Photo: Dino Stanin)

Although exercise IDASSA 2007 has just wrapped up, impressions voiced by participants are most satisfying for the organizers. More importantly, says Trut, “during the exercise we identified and improved several crucial elements for future situations such as: interoperability, useage of international standards and procedures, cooperation between military and civilian units in the field, and cooperation between national and international teams. The importance of these lessons for each country is immeasurable.”

The high interest displayed by NATO/PFP teams during the preparation period should be noted. That situation posed an unexpected problem, however, as NATO and the Republic of Croatia were forced to limit the number of teams that could participate.

“Until now,” reflects Trut, “in cases of natural disasters all over the world, Croatia has sent its financial and material aid to countries in need, never its troops or teams. After this exercise, we are confident in our field competence and, if needed, our teams can participate in future rescue missions as well. IDASSA 2007 has served NATO and all participants well – we are now better prepared and most confident to help others.”  

Clive Addy is the Executive Editor of FrontLine Security Magazine
© FrontLine Security 2007