BEIRUT: Airport teams practiced coordinating aid shipments, responding to accidents and directing emergency response Thursday as part of a new program to help the country prepare for natural catastrophes such as floods and earthquakes.
A day of emergency exercises kicked off at Rafik Hariri International Airport as the culmination of a program with the United Nations and international courier service DHL to help Lebanon streamline its aid distribution during a crisis.
“What you are going to do today is going to save lives,” said U.N. Development Program official, Luca Renda, at the airport ahead of the exercises.
“This will increase the ability of different agencies to work with each other during disasters,” Renda said.
The program is intended to highlight areas in the country that are affected by a disaster, and then coordinate the distribution of external aid that comes into the country. The military, Civil Defense, fire brigades, municipalities and airport staff are all involved in the plan, which is centralized under crisis management offices at the airport.
Crisis workers gathered at the offices and new staff manned phone banks as the centralized system went through the motions of responding to a disaster. Fire crews also practiced extinguishing a plane fire on the tarmac of the airport by dousing an old airliner with water cannons.
UNDP and DHL teams worked with around 30 members of the airport staff to create contingency plans during a disaster. The teams also assessed the airport’s maximum rate of transporting goods and people and how to reach that maximum level during a disaster.
Workers are trying to prevent bottlenecks that stop help from getting to people in need right after a disaster occurs.
“The program covered pre-disaster preparedness and in the unfortunate event that a disaster occurs, how we can best cope with it,” said caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi.
Aridi said the response to the Ethiopian Airliner crash in 2010, which killed 90 people, highlighted the country’s need for a better emergency response system.
“Since then, with the limited resources that we had, we performed to the best of our ability, but saw the need to improve,” he said.
The disaster planning began nearly 10 months ago when DHL kicked off a study of the authorities’ current aid-response plan. DHL has worked with a number of other developing countries, including Indonesia and Nepal, to improve their disaster response.
Scientists say Lebanon is particularly at risk of earthquakes because several fault lines run through the country. Earthquakes in Turkey have claimed hundreds of lives in recent years and small tremors can be felt in Lebanon when quakes hit Cairo.
U.N. officials say that over the past decade, natural disasters have affected more than 2 billion people.
Training for road closures due to tire burnings was not included. Last year protests closed the airport road, causing snarled traffic and confusion.