April 14, 2008 —
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Rules, regulations and red tape can make traveling from one country to another tedious and time-consuming for people. Diseases, on the other hand, can cross borders without passports, visas or even reservations.
That ease of movement, combined with modern transportation that can move people from one hemisphere to another in a matter of hours, has made dealing with a potentially international pandemic a major concern of the United States – South Korea – Japan Trilateral Workshop. The latest workshop, held earlier this year on South Korea’s Jeju Island, was the fourth in a series that was first hosted in Tokyo in 2006.
U.S. Northern Command, at the request of the Institute for Defense Analyses, has participated in the Trilateral Workshop since the beginning, contributing its expertise in pandemic influenza contingency planning, among other subjects. Army Brig. Gen. Robert Felderman, deputy director of USNORTHCOM’s Plans, Policy and Strategy Directorate, attended the Jeju Island workshop and presented a briefing on the command’s pandemic influenza plan.
“USNORTHCOM is the global synchronizer – the global coordinator – for pandemic influenza across the combatant commands,” Felderman said. “Also, the United States in 1918 had the Spanish influenza. We were the ones who had the largest response to in more recent history. So I discussed what we did then, what we expect to have happen now and the numbers that we would expect in a pandemic influenza.”
The potential number of fatalities in the United States in a modern pandemic influenza could reach nearly two million, according to Felderman. Not only would the nation’s economy suffer, but the Department of Defense would still have to be ready and able to protect and defend the country and provide support of civil authorities in disaster situations. While virtually every aspect of society would be affected, “the implications for Northern Command will be very significant.”
“[A pandemic would have] a huge economic impact, in addition to the defense-of-our-nation impact,” Felderman said.
The United States isn’t alone in preparing for such a potential catastrophe.
“[The workshop organizers] wanted pandemic influenza to be the focal point for this meeting because it’s something that all three nations have in common, and all three nations are in the planning phase for this,” said David Koster, deputy chief of the Joint Readiness Division in the North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM Training and Exercise Directorate. “That kind of shared experience serves as a common denominator, and it really does help break the ice because it gives everyone something very familiar to discuss.”
Koster, who has attended three of the four Trilateral Workshops, said that, despite the cultural, political and functional differences among the three participating countries, their solutions to problems are often surprisingly similar.
“The structure of the workshop was that questions were posed by the facilitators, and the three nations split off into three different teams to discuss and find their unique solution to the problem that’s been posed,” Koster explained. “When we’d come back together and brief our answers, we’d often find that the Japanese or the Koreans, or perhaps both, had the same solutions as we did. So the differences in the cultures were often superseded by the issues at hand.”
The workshops not only give representatives from the three countries the opportunity to brainstorm answers to hypothetical questions, but to learn more about each other.
“It gives us a good understanding of the other nations – of governments and what sort of processes they have to go through, and their bureaucracy compared to our bureaucracy,” Koster said.
The four Trilateral Workshops in the past two years have also laid the groundwork for more permanent, ongoing working groups scheduled to be established this year. And the three countries plan to interact and communicate more actively.
“We’re intending to share experiences by sending observers to each other’s exercises.” Koster said. “We’re also intending to create a trilateral portal that will allow us to collaborate electronically. And that’s brand-new, a result of the discussions at these workshops.”
U.S. Northern Command was established on Oct. 1, 2002, to anticipate and conduct homeland defense and civil support operations within the assigned area of responsibility to defend, protect, and secure the United States and its interests.