An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | June 25, 2013

Georgia National Guard, Country of Georgia hone disaster response capabilities

By Spc. Jasmine Jacobs Georgia National Guard

TBILISI, Georgia - A massive earthquake has struck near the Black Sea port city of Poti. Massive infrastructure damage has been reported. To the south, in Batuli, structural collapses have trapped hundreds of people in rubble.

As officials of the Country of Georgia Ministry of Internal Affairs Emergency Management Department and labor feverishly to assess damage and dispatch relief measures they must contend with media inquiries and ensure that the population is kept informed. This was the scenario that confronted Georgia National Guard members and representatives from the Country of Georgia's ministries in the third annual Shared Horizons exercise June 18-22 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

"Shared Horizons allows Country of Georgia representatives the avenue to train on national response planning and highlight their inter-ministry cooperation," said Command Sgt. Maj. Lance Rygmyr, Shared Horizons Chief of Exercise Control.

This is the third year of Shared Horizons, the latest joint training effort between the country of Georgia and the State of Georgia. Shared Horizons grew out of the State Partnership Program between the two Georgias which began in 1994. Included in the exercise were National Guard members, U.S. Army active duty Soldiers, U.S. Army Europe representatives, representatives from the Country of Georgia's Emergency Management Department, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Press Center, along with other Georgian officials.

"These exercises allow us the chance to share ideas, lessons learned and techniques in all aspects, both civilian and military related," said Col. Anthony Abbot, United States team co-director. "The partnership between ourselves and the Country of Georgia is mutualistic, we both learn as mentors as well as trainees."

Shared Horizons not only trains citizens of both Georgias on disaster relief operations, but also provides U.S. forces with a unique opportunity.

"This allows the Georgia National Guard to contribute to U.S. foreign policy in multiple ways," said Lt. Col. David Johnson, State Partnership Program director for the Georgia National Guard. "We are able to help implement goals and strategies of the U.S. government and provide Soldiers and Airmen with unique missions and learning opportunities."

In the simulated exercise scenario, a catastrophic earthquake took place in the Country of Georgia. The tasks for exercise participants include determining the proper response process and activation of resources 72 hours post-disaster, and then six weeks post-disaster. The participants also had simulated media involvement, which allowed them to develop media relations skills to keep the public informed in the event of a national disaster.

"We worked with graduate students of journalism from Tbilisi State University to prepare them to serve as simulated media for the exercise," said 1st Lt. William Carraway, public affairs officer for the Georgia National Guard. "By training future journalists alongside representatives of Georgian ministries we can shape the way the government communicates with its citizens in times of crisis. By understanding the kinds of questions media will ask, the ministries can be prepared with the right information when it is needed." For the graduate students, this was an opportunity to put their education and training to practice.

"This training was very valuable," said Nino Dgebuadze, a fifth-year student at Tbilisi State University. "I now know the kind of questions the people will want the media to ask of their government in times of disaster."

Junior Lt. Georgi Zagnidze of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was responsible for holding a press conference with the media. 

"It is good to be prepared, to anticipate what the media are going to ask so that we can get that information ahead of time," Zagnidze said. 

The structure of the exercise tested the capability of the Georgian ministries to collect, analyze and act on information. The Georgians were presented with as many as 50 events per day that required decisions and government coordination of resources. Additionally, officials had to decide how to respond to media inquiries and correct false media reports. The Georgians rose to the challenge to the satisfaction of Malkhaz Lagurashrili, head of the Training Division in the Emergency Management Department.

"I hope the U.S. Soldiers will be able to see how our system works here in Georgia, as well as our tactics, technology and communication practices as they are conducted between agencies and ministries during disaster relief operations," said Lagurashrili.

The Georgia National Guard trainers were impressed by how much progress the Georgians had made over three years. This progress translates to lives saved in the event of a national crisis.

"We are in a very unique position to take all these tools at our disposal to help coordinate cohesive emergency response programs in this city. As state partners we are able to get these agencies to work together to form a cohesive, streamlined process for emergency management capabilities, so that in case of a natural disaster, they are more likely to be able to handle it in-house," added Rygmyr.

Shared Horizons 2013 is the third and final iteration in this bi-lateral exercise which has run annually since 2011. The U.S. National Guard's State Partnership Program has ensured nearly two decades of teamwork between the state of Georgia's National Guard and the Country of Georgia, dating back to1994. Although Shared Horizons is the final iteration, it is not the end of the State of Georgia and the Country of Georgia's relationship.

"The National Guard is a long-term partner with the Country of Georgia," said Johnson. "This partnership enables us to select and sustain focus on strategic objectives and goals to build partnership capacity and long-term civil-military relationship. The State Partnership Program is an affordable and effective instrument of U.S. foreign policy."