U.S., China prepare together to respond to disasters

Soldiers from the United States and China spent a week in November practicing helicopter rescues, clearing debris and building binational communication hubs to keep their disaster-response skills sharp.

Soldiers carrying a patient on a stretcher in a mock exercise (April Davis/Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)
U.S. and Chinese soldiers carry a simulated casualty during a model rescue operation. (April Davis/Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)

Civilian and military personnel from both countries, working together to ready themselves for future crises, responded to simulated flooding during the exercises near Portland, Oregon. The program, called the 2017 U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange, featured troop exercises and academic exchanges on best practices.

You don’t want to wait until a crisis to form relationships, Robert Brown, the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, told The Daily Astorian newspaper in Astoria, Oregon. “That’s why this is so important … we form relationships so we can save lives when there’s a disaster in the future, working together.”

Hundreds of U.S. and Chinese officials have trained in humanitarian and disaster response since the exchange program started two decades ago. This year, observers from Bangladesh, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore took lessons back from the exercises.

Chinese and American soldiers standing and laughing (Nathan H. Barbour/IUSAF)
Participants share a laugh during the November disaster exchange program at Camp Rilea, Oregon. (Nathan H. Barbour/USAF)

China hosted soldiers from the U.S. Army and the People’s Liberation Army for the 2016 exchange in Kunming, Yunnan Province. “We are very delighted to see that, through the years’ practices, both militaries have deepened our exchanges in [the] area of humanitarian aid and disaster relief,” Major General Zhang Jiang of China said.

According to the U.N., 1 billion people in the Indo-Asia Pacific could be living in disaster-prone areas classified as “extreme” or “high” by 2030. “It’s not a question of if we should be ready, but when we should be ready,” Brown said.