Photo: Practicing concrete cutting during the USAR training in the Philippines in 2013

Filipino responder thanks RedR for the training

When cyclones, floods and earthquakes hit the Philippines these days, it’s almost guaranteed some of their key emergency responders were trained by RedR Australia in Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) techniques and they will be using Australian donated equipment.

Five years ago, RedR Australia conducted urban search and rescue training in the Philippines as part of an Australian Government funded initiative. Between 2011 and 2013, we trained 71 emergency responders in partnership with the Amity Public Safety Academy in the province of Negros Occidental.

When Cyclone Haiyan struck in early November 2013, those Australian trained responders saved lives and, this week, one of them visited our Carlton office to thank us for the training.

James Benares, the Assistant Director of Amity Public Safety Academy, was among the first group of trainees and was first on the scene in Capiz province after Cyclone Haiyan devastated parts of the Philippines. It was one of the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded.

“The cyclone affected five regions and members of the USAR team deployed to different areas. I was on a remote island in Capiz and tried to rescue people who lost vital facilities and social services,” James said.

“Thanks to the RedR training on how OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), UNDAC (United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination) and INSARAG (International Search and Rescue Advisory Group) work, we were able to get quick access to their resources and that helped save lives. In every response, you must have great coordination with local government and affected populations. We used the knowledge we gained from the training to link ourselves from the grassroots to the international community,” he said.

James explained that his team of responders did an early impact assessment and this enabled them to provide comprehensive data on the community’s needs to several humanitarian clusters ensuring shelter, food, water and sanitation, medical care and nutrition supplements flowed into the region quickly.

“I know that we changed lives as we came back a few weeks later and saw the aid that had been distributed and how the people were coping,” he said.

The three weeks of intense RedR training included instruction on how to cut concrete, construct timber shoring (on unsafe buildings), use technical search and rescue cameras and seismic acoustic locaters which detect small vibrations of noise in piles of rubble. It also included information on the international humanitarian response system and how the United Nations agencies work with international NGOs through the cluster system.

The program was designed for first responders and aimed to enhance their skills to be able to meet the requirements of a nationally deployable USAR team commensurate with an INSARAG classification of medium.

The trainees included fire fighters, paramedics and rescue technicians and many were staff from the Philippines Bureau of Fire protection, the Office of Civil Defence and local government Emergency Units but others, like James, were regular emergency response volunteers.

RedR Associate Trainer and Melbourne Fire Brigade (MFB) station officer, Gary Egan, was one of the trainers and recently hosted James in Melbourne whilst he undertook a personal development opportunity with MFB that enabled organisational operations information sharing.

“James was selected after the first training course in 2011 to shadow the trainers in the second course and then to be a trainer on the third course,” Gary explained.

Since 2013, the Amity Public Safety Academy has trained another 24 responders annually and, whilst they would like to train more people, James said it’s expensive to run the training as it requires the construction of concrete props to be breached and to be used during the exercises.

Following the Australian training, $100,000 of equipment was donated to the Academy and is used in ongoing training and for emergency response work.

James continues to lecture at the academy is a professional volunteer and responded to more than six emergencies in 2016 including Victoria’s deadly thunderstorm asthma attack whilst on his internship with MFB. In 2015, he was a volunteer emergency responder following the Nepal earthquakes.