By Firzan “Hush” Hashim, Country Director, A-PAD SL
Note from the CBi Secretariat: The Connecting Business initiative (CBi) was created five years ago to support businesses in disaster preparedness, response and recovery. As part of our #5YrsofCBi anniversary campaign, we are thrilled to showcase this unique example of civil-military collaboration from Sri Lanka.
Floods and landslides in 2016 and 2017 in Sri Lanka accounted for nearly 500 deaths. Several volunteers lost their lives whilst trying to save those in need. In the aftermath, we - the Asia Pacific Alliance for Disaster Management Sri Lanka (A-PAD SL), a network of businesses - stepped in, collaborating with the military and private businesses to train volunteers and improve search and rescue (SAR) activities.
In 2016, Sri Lanka was impacted by severe floods. Nearly 200 people died and about half a million were impacted, injured or displaced. Local and international organizations, private companies and volunteers came together to provide emergency assistance to those affected. Unfortunately, several volunteers died while trying to save the lives of others. This could likely have been avoided with more awareness, skills training, coordination and use of appropriate lifesaving equipment in search and rescue operations.
That’s when A-PAD SL, a CBi Member Network, decided to do something about it. We wanted to use the potential of our network to share skills and experience with frontline responders, so we organized professional search and rescue training, bringing in the expertise of international partners.
We called international instructors from our counterparts in Japan to provide expertise, and proposed a joint SAR training to the Ministry of Defense. The intent was to enhance and fine-tune the expertise of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, and private sector extreme and water sports companies in swift water search and rescue. The resources of these private sector companies – such as boats, rafts, specialized vehicles and water sports equipment – could become very useful for rescue activities during floods.
The project was a huge success. Since 2017, we’ve been organizing this training annually in partnership with the military.
I’m happy to say that we’ve managed to train 72 personnel from the military, police and private sector. This includes 48 people who have completed the Level 1 of International Training in Swift Water Search and Rescue as well as 24 who have achieved both Level 1 and 2. Two are women, both from the private sector. It has been inspiring to go through the training alongside them and see them gain confidence and skills, and to see the teams deployed and using their newfound expertise in the recent floods.
As stated by one of the female trainees, Michelle Joseph, “The beauty of these swift water rescue training programs by A-PAD Sri Lanka was that we two ladies were not catered to – the training demanded as much from us as it did the men, conditioning us through rigorous training techniques and testing us. For that, I am so thankful. This is our first step towards defying limits. We are on a journey against social stigmas and encourage more females to join fore with us to be accountable for their own lives first and then become competent to save others in times of distress."
The Sri Lanka Air Force and Navy have complemented international training by providing their training venues, resources such as helicopters, boats, communication equipment and incorporating the private sector in simulation training. Admiral Piyal De Silva, Commander in the Sri Lanka Navy is one of our close partners. For him, “The recent partnership between A-PAD Sri Lanka and the Sri Lanka Navy in conducting International Swift Water Rescue stands as a best practice of Civil-Military Cooperation. We see this initiative as a catalyst for saving lives and businesses.”
We are working with CBi to integrate the gender lens more systematically into our disaster management operations, including SAR operations. I’d like to see more women participating, because we need more women responders. Women and children are most often the victims of disasters, and women rescuers could provide the comfort and assurances in SAR, especially in culturally-sensitive locations.
Taking the initiative one step further, in 2020 A-PAD SL initiated a professional Civil-Military Search & Rescue Team in Sri Lanka, with the hope of institutionalizing Civil-Military Coordination in emergency relief as a trend nationwide. This has been a successful process, and we have been told that our team will receive national recognition this year.
We’ve learned a lot from our collaboration with the military, and maintained strong links with the Ministry of Defense via the national Disaster Management Centre (DMC). We’ve organized other trainings, such as recovery planning, and help provide protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This collaboration is quite unique and has garnered attention from the media. We invited journalists to participate in the training programs so they could better understand search and rescue, be safe during disasters and report better about them.
While we look forward to continuing with annual trainings around SAR, it has already been gratifying to witness the impact of our work: in recent floods, no more lives of volunteers were lost, and many lives were saved due to early deployment, readiness and civil-military coordination. Our work is far from done, but if every year we reach more women, more employees from more companies, more military and police personnel as well as more journalists, we’ll be contributing to a more resilient Sri Lanka – and that’s one of A-PAD SL’s core objectives.
This piece is part of the yearlong CBi celebration of the initiative’s five-year anniversary. To find out more, visit the Five-year anniversary page or follow #5YrsofCBi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook. You can also join the CBi mailing list here for quarterly newsletters focused on private sector engagement in disaster management.