Vt. Guard teaches disaster management

Senegalese visit Williston through Partnership Program

Sept. 30, 2010

By Greg Duggan
Observer staff
Lt. Col. Bamba Diao (right) presents (from left) Town Manager Rick McGuire, Police Chief Roy Nelson and officer Travis Trybulski with a wooden carving of a woman, a symbol of unity. (Observer photo by Greg Duggan)

Senegal Army Lt. Col. Bamba Diao and Maj. Canar Diop looked into the Spartan holding cell at the Williston Police Station and declared it a comfortable looking space. Though the cell typically holds one or two prisoners at a time, the two men said a similar-sized space in Senegal will fit 10 to 15 men.

Diao and Diop were visiting Vermont to observe a catastrophic exercise training drill and learn about crisis management from the Vermont National Guard. They received a tour of the Williston police and fire stations on Monday.

After arriving last Wednesday, the Senegalese participated in a Vermont catastrophic exercise that ran from Friday morning to Saturday afternoon. The Vermont National Guard has a State Partnership Program with Senegal, and the training exercise allowed the foreigners to learn about crisis management.

A press release from Vermont Emergency Management called the event “the largest emergency preparedness exercise in Vermont history.”

The exercise spanned 25 locations in the state and included 750 emergency responders, government employees, private businesses and community volunteers. Participants dealt with a natural disaster scenario that brought mass casualties, power outages and flooding.

Flooding, in particular, can affect Senegal. Diao explained that the rainy season hits the west African country from July through October, and the country often experiences flooding, particularly in populated low-lying areas.

“I’m sure that this trip will help us to get more insight,” Diao said, adding that the time to prepare for a disaster is during a period of peace.

He said watching the training exercise imparted the importance of repeatedly practicing for natural disasters in order to prepare for a real event. The exercise also highlighted the necessity of cooperation and integration of various departments.

“It’s difficult to achieve, but very important,” Diao said.

Guard partners with foreign nations

National Guards partner with other countries as a way of building international relations and sharing ideas. The Vermont Guard pairs with Macedonia as well as Senegal.

Information from the National Guard website says the partnerships are meant to “improve bilateral relations with the U.S. These partnerships are designed to improve military relations, to assist with the development of democratic institutions, foster open market economies to help develop stability, and project and represent U.S. humanitarian values.”

Maj. John Geno, who heads the State Partnership Program for the Vermont National Guard, could not be reached for additional comment.

The program creates an active partnership between Vermont and the two foreign countries. Chief Warrant Officer Pete Chiaravalle of the Vermont Guard, who toured the Williston Police Station with the Senegalese on Monday, said three doctors from Macedonia had recently visited Fletcher Allen Health Care through the Partnership Program.

The program provided Diao and Diop the opportunity to tour the Williston police and fire stations before returning to Senegal on Tuesday.

“I think this community is very calm,” Diop said at one point on the tour of the police station.

Officer Travis Trybulski, leading the tour, concurred, estimating that 9 of 10 calls are relatively low-key matters.

Trybulski used the tour to explain the town’s police ethic and show off technology used by the department. Diao asked about the benefits of policing by bicycle, and was also thrilled by police cars and their video and GPS technology. Climbing into the front seat of a cruiser, he joked he wanted to have picture taken so he could tell his wife he had bought a new car.

Diao said he learned a lot about disaster management on the trip, and also said he believes the visit will strengthen relations between his country and the United States.