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Dispatch from Planning Session in Malaysia

Humanity Road’s Cat Graham is in Malaysia where she is contributing to the planning for Pacific Endeavor. Pacific Endeavor is an annual multi-national workshop to improve disaster communication and is hosted by US Pacific Command. Communicating in a disaster is often challenging, even within one agency. Pacific Endeavor is striving to keep communication flowing across 22 nations’ military and civilian personnel. Cat is involved to provide Humanity Road’s expertise to the exercise being developed to test the groups’ skills.

2014 Pacific Endeavor Planning Meeting 3 in Malaysia

Cat Graham’s Dispatch from Malaysia:

Disasters are at the heart of why I am here in Malaysia. Humanity Road is participating in the third Pacific Endeavor Planning Workshop for 2014. I am in the scenario development working group; our role is to provide operational expertise and incorporate real world examples into a capstone exercise. Overall, the workshop must finalize the thousands of details involved in carrying out a program that involves technical communication teams from more than 20 nations.

This year’s capstone event for Pacific Endeavor will take place in Kathmandu, Nepal. Communication teams and corporate board members from the Multinational Communications Interoperability Program will meet to plan operational assessment. Operational assessments test the multinational teams’ ability to deploy and coordinate. The teams’ goals are to establish voice and data communications in the field and simulate the operation of a Multinational Communication Center.

Kuala Lumpur from the Petronas Towers bridge

Walking along the sidewalk in Kuala Lumpur is breathtaking. I am surrounded by broad canopied trees, bird of paradise plants, and rows of palm trees. This is the backdrop for the stunning buildings that compose the skyline of beautiful Kuala Lumpur, including the iconic Petronas Towers. I can’t describe the feeling of walking across the bridge suspended between the two towers, 170 meters in the air. It floats in a suspension that moves and rocks between the buildings. As the world’s highest double-decked bridge, it provides a stunning vantage point of the city. Linking the towers at the 41st and 42nd floors, it facilitates movement, and functions as an escape route in case of emergencies.

Bridge between the Petronas Towers

Standing on the Petronas Towers bridge and looking out at the skyline of Kuala Lumpur I consider the risks Malaysia faces from natural disasters. Malaysia experienced shaking during the Indian Ocean earthquake on 26 December 2004. Kuala Lumpur was approximately 400 miles from the earthquake epicenter, and Malaysia escaped the degree of damage that struck other countries located even farther away. Since the earthquake occurred on the far coast of Sumatra away from Malaysia, the island was largely protected from the worst of the tsunami. The country’s worst affected areas were the northern coastal areas and outlying islands like Penang and Langkawi.

In 2001 the Petronas Towers were evacuated briefly after receiving a bomb threat the day after the twin towers in New York fell. Floods and landslides occur in Malaysia but their frequency is considerably lower than that of many other Southeast Asian countries. The last major natural disaster affecting Kuala Lumpur was in 1971 from monsoon-triggered flash flooding. The biggest risk for the population comes from the smallest sources, mosquitos and water borne illness. The incidence of dengue in Malaysia has been rising steadily, from 7,103 cases in 2000 to 46,171 in 2010 (including 134 deaths). The disease costs the Malaysian economy between RM270 million and RM667 million per year. In light of this, the Malaysian government has identified dengue control as a national priority.

Today we close our working session with much formality as the host country bids goodbye to the multinational partners. The planning sessions have been taking place at the Peacekeeping Center in Port Dickson. A lot was accomplished at this session, but much work is to be done to finish and get ready for the main event in Nepal. It’s been a successful and enlightening experience working with civilian and military partners from Nepal, Philippines, Tonga, Australia, New Zealand, Maldives and many more.

In addition to the practical work accomplished for Pacific Endeavor, we have gained even more by getting to know one another. I met with representatives from military and civilian agencies including the Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii, the AHA ASEAN Disaster Center in Indonesia, and the Center for Excellence in Hawaii. Forging friendships that cross cultures and disciplines is a powerful asset when called to collaborate after a disaster.

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2014 Pacific Endeavor Planning Meeting 3 in Malaysia

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Kuala Lumpur from the Petronas Towers bridge

Cat Graham stands on the clear glass bridge that connects the Petronas Towers.

Bridge between the Petronas Towers

Image of the Petronas Towers at dusk
Photo of Cat Graham and another woman taken at the top of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia