Briggs participates in European Union disaster response training in Moldova

An American training contingent of (from left) Brig. Gen. John Byrd, WCU’s Lisa Briggs, Lt. Col. Jack Midyette and Master Sgt. Joel Dalton meet with Moldovan officials during a European Union training exercise.

Lisa Briggs, director of Western Carolina University’s Emergency and Disaster Management Program, recently returned from Moldova in Eastern Europe where she participated in disaster response training exercises.

An expert in K-9 handling and training for detection of human remains, Briggs provided instruction in those skills and other immediate search, rescue and law enforcement needs that follow in the aftermath of calamities. She was part of a five-member team from the U.S. that joined more than 600 members of top international rescue teams and observers taking part in the field exercises.

“It was awe-inspiring to witness countries that in the past may not have been allies, but are now coming together for common good,” said Briggs. “The preparedness and response to disaster fosters people putting aside barriers that may present themselves ― whether language, cultural, religious or political.”

Briggs is greeted by rescue dogs.

The European Union funded the four-day training, titled “Prevention, Preparedness and Response to Natural and Manmade Disasters in the Eastern Partnership Countries.” It was intended to improve emergency management, risk assessment and recovery efforts, as well as build regional cooperation. The training was for Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine.

Briggs attended at the request of Brig. Gen. John A. Byrd of the N.C. Army National Guard. In addition to the American representatives, teams and experts from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, the United Kingdom and Romania participated in the event. Briggs was based in Chisinau, the capital and largest city of Moldova.

“We could not have been treated better by the Moldavians and the experience was unprecedented,” Briggs said. “I would go back anytime, and I’m excited to have new colleagues from afar. Moldova is a beautiful mix of farmland and vineyards. As I did my research in preparing for the trip, I learned that most of their economy continues to come from the vineyards, as Moldova was mandated by the Soviet Union as the country to produce wine during the reign of the USSR.

“The citizens of the country are divided on returning to communism or continuing to align as a democratic nation,” she said. “If I was in some small way a positive representative of the United States, especially during a time when this country may be viewed by some foreign citizens in a poor light, then I could not be more rewarded. I was so proud of Gen. Byrd and his team members in how they represented themselves. I am equally excited to represent Western Carolina University in its working relationship with the military and, in this case specifically, the Army National Guard.”

Briggs evaluates a disaster scenario.

The event was the first joint full-scale civil protection exercise conducted by the multinational initiative. The scenarios were of three simultaneous impacts of an earthquake causing the collapse of buildings, a dam breach resulting in flooding and a traffic accident causing dangerous chemicals to be released into the air.

“Recent emergencies, such as the forest fires in Europe and hurricanes Irma and Jose, remind us that countries are not always able to face disasters alone,” said Julia Stewart-David, director of the Civil Protection Policy Unit for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. “Joint preparedness is crucial to ensure a timely and coordinated response.”

Briggs’ participation resulted from her being a key participant in mock disaster training in Western North Carolina during the summer. She helped organize training exercises for the recovery of military pilots from a simulated crash of an F-15 aircraft. Students in a class she teaches in finding missing persons worked with the N.C. National Guard in crafting a scenario in which a terrorist attack brings down a military plane, while her emergency and disaster management students served as interns for the three-week training. Briggs designed the exercise to include use of her human remains recovery K-9s and a State Bureau of Investigation unit. She is a member of the SBI Human Remains Recovery Task Force.

For more information, contact Briggs at 828-227-2180 or lbriggs@wcu.edu.