Senegalese Civilian and Military Personnel Prepare to Exercise Pandemic Response Plan


Nearly 100 civilian and military representatives primarily from Senegal and the United States came together in Saly for a weeklong exercise to prepare for a potential pandemic, July 25-29.

The Senegalese National Government Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise is hosted by the Senegalese Government, organized by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and supported by the Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The tabletop exercise will assist the Senegalese Government in assessing their pandemic influenza preparedness and also identify and validate how the Senegalese Armed Forces can assist in Senegal’s National Pandemic Response Plan.

Representing U.S. Africa Command at the opening ceremony was Brigadier General James Lukeman, deputy director J5 for strategy and plans. Speaking to the importance of the exercise, he said, “It was only two years ago, in 2009, when we were concerned, all of us, about an H1N1 outbreak. That highlights the importance of us getting together to work on how to respond to this complex humanitarian emergency event. It requires an approach across the whole of government — civil society and the military — to be prepared to respond.”

A pandemic has “the greatest potential for affecting population morbidity and mortality than any other existing public health threat,” according to exercise planners. It is a threat that cannot be seen, is highly adaptable, unpredictable and can take on a new form annually, requiring time to develop new vaccinations. Pandemics know no boundaries, spread quickly and easily, are deadly and can cripple society. In the 20th Century influenza developed into a killer pandemic three times, killing millions in all three instances.

Assisting partner nations in developing the capability to respond to a severe pandemic is a “high priority” for the United States, said Robert Yamate, Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Senegal.
“This [exercise] will demonstrate how truly important disaster preparedness and response is to the security of Senegal and the West Africa region,” Yamate said. “It also will highlight the critical importance of cooperation and communication between national militaries and civil authority leaders, as well as international organizations, non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups.

Cooperation and communication are crucial both to navigate and mitigate the events of such disasters and to hasten discovery and recovery if a disaster does occur.”

Senegal is currently in the third phase of a five-phase approach to ensure the Senegalese Armed Forces have a contingency plan to support civil authorities in responding to a severe pandemic or other disaster.

Sokhna Toure, cabinet director of the Ministry of Interior, highlighted during her opening comments that this tabletop exercise, along with another one held the previous week with six countries from the region, demonstrates “the importance the Government of Senegal attaches to prevention, preparedness and response of the national and regional committee in the face of pandemic.”

Toure explained that Senegal is at a crossroads in the world and serves as an entry point to West Africa, exposing Senegal to “all the pandemics that affect the world.”
“Senegal is one of the few African countries to have an institutional mechanism of civil security and civil protection, since 1964,” Toure said. She added that Senegal is also one of the first African countries to formalize and validate a national plan for emergency response and last April completed a national contingency plan for influenza.

Exercise planners said that Senegal is the first nation they’ve worked with that has existing plans so the exercise will serve as a way to test the newly-validated contingency plan. Toure said that another objective of the exercise is to “determine the modality for the participation of the military in civilian defense operation.”

During a panel discussion with Senegalese experts from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Interior’s Cabinet of Civil Protection and the Senegalese Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Cheikhou Camara, director of military engineering and infrastructure, mentioned some of the areas where the military might provide additional capacity, including medical, transportation, logistics, infrastructure and power supply.

The five-session tabletop exercise was closely coordinated with the Senegalese government to ensure realism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have reviewed the overall concept for the exercise. The tabletop portion of the exercise begins July 26.

Erik Threet, U.S. AFRICOM’s Pandemic Response Program director, explained, “We are not here to teach. We are here to assist. … We are here to provide this program as a mechanism for the government of Senegal to utilize and enhance your own capabilities based on the gaps that you identify. And we’ll be here to assist you after that in addressing those gaps and enhancing your plans and providing training as required.”

This tabletop exercise is part of a series of engagements led by U.S. AFRICOM through its Pandemic Response Program (PRP) to assist African militaries in strengthening their capabilities and capacities to respond to pandemic influenza in the context of a larger national pandemic preparedness and response plan.

PRP is funded by USAID as part of its umbrella program Humanitarian Pandemic Preparedness Initiative (H2P). Implemented by the U.S. military, PRP is structured like a traditional USAID project with a focus on long-term sustainable results and focuses on the whole of government approach.

PRP’s objectives are to train senior and mid-level military leaders in disaster management and humanitarian assistance with a particular focus on pandemic preparedness; to ensure that militaries in targeted “pandemic preparedness” countries have developed detailed plans of action directly supporting national plans; and to conduct exercises to test the implementation of these plans and identify gaps of deficiencies.