Okinawans, Marines complete bilateral disaster-preparedness exercise

Okinawans, Marines complete bilateral disaster-preparedness exercise

by Cpl. Matthew Manning
Okinawa Marine Staff

CAMP HANSEN, Japan - The whirring blades of the helicopter cut through the air, as sirens echo throughout the installation. First responders sprint to assist simulated victims in the aftermath of a disaster scenario.

Members of the Kin Town Office, Kin Town Fire Department, Ishikawa Police Station and the Okinawa Prefectural Police completed a bilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise with Marines from Camp Hansen Jan. 29 to increase disaster preparedness.

The exercise scenario was based on the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami, which could potentially destroy Kin Town's designated evacuation routes and locations.

"Today was our first bilateral disaster-preparedness exercise between Camp Hansen and the Kin Town Office, Kin Town Fire Department, Ishikawa Police Station and the Okinawa Prefectural Police," said Maj. Andrew A. Merz, camp operations officer for Camp Hansen. "It was designed to improve our coordination and communication with those emergency response entities and create an environment where we can work together and where we can bring them onto the camp and let them use camp facilities and space in execution of a possible real-world disaster scenario."

Kin Town and Camp Hansen share a close friendship, and look to strengthen that friendship by working together to prepare for disasters, according to Tsuyoshi Gibu, mayor of Kin Town.

"I am very glad to participate in this exercise with the Okinawa Prefectural Police and the Marine Corps of Camp Hansen," said Gibu. "Since the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011, the people of Kin Town have paid more attention than before to disaster preparedness. We always have to keep in mind to protect ourselves from danger and are strongly required to cooperate with each other efficiently, ensuring the safety of the lives of the people of Kin Town."

Although there is not an official disaster-preparedness agreement between Kin Town and Camp Hansen yet, the exercise will help in developing one, according to Merz.

"I think today went very well, but it is just a starting point," said Merz. "We are only going to get better from here and be able to bring in more capabilities. There will be more things the Marines can do and more things the local authorities can offer as well. We will be able to get to a more formal agreement in the future."

During the exercise, simulated evacuees were brought aboard Camp Hansen by bus, ambulance and an Okinawa Prefectural Police helicopter.

Upon the evacuees' arrival, the emergency responders triaged a variety of simulated injuries and escorted a group of preschool children to a safe location.

"We never know when a disaster will strike and it is important that children are able to listen and follow their teachers, so they can move to safety during a disaster," said Masanori Kinjo, inspector chief of security section with the Ishikawa Police Station.

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