ASCEND Benchmarking Visit to the Republic of Korea

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The Korean National Fire Agency (KNFA), in collaboration with the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), successfully delivered the first ASEAN Standards and Certification for Experts in Disaster Management (ASCEND) Benchmarking Visit in the Republic of Korea (ROK) on 26-29 September 2022.

Relating to the ASCEND project’s goal to create a regionally recognised certification scheme for disaster management professions to ensure and promote higher standards and quality in the management of disasters in the ASEAN region, this benchmarking visit aims to expose the participants to the expertise and capacity of the Republic of Korea in managing daily emergencies as well as responding to disasters both inside and outside the country. The knowledge and experience gained by the participants through this visit may help inspire and improve the administration and training of disaster management professionals in the ASEAN region as well as improve the capacities of ASEAN Member States’ Emergency Operations Centres (EOCs).

During the opening ceremony, KNFA Acting Vice Commissioner Yeonggeun Hong expressed his hope that the visit could be an opportunity for ASEAN and ROK to share good practices and learn from one another. “As we all know, protecting the lives and property of the people from disasters is the top priority and goal of the existence of a nation, regardless of regions, said Vice Commissioner Hong. “I hope that systematic cooperation and constructive solidarity with ASEAN countries will lead us to rapid and substantial progress in the disaster management system and that all the people of ASEAN will enjoy permanent daily safety and a joyful life.”

Additionally, Mr. Andrew Mardanugraha, the ASCEND Project Coordinator and the Head of the ASEAN delegates, mentioned, “This visit is a wonderful opportunity for ASEAN officials to learn and understand how one of the best countries in disaster management prepares and ensures the highest quality of disaster response. In addition, this visit is also a good chance to build a strong relationship among ASEAN officials and with the KNFA colleagues as well.”

Throughout the four-day activity, the participants visited various pertinent sites showcasing ROK’s disaster response capacities. First, they visited the KNFA Headquarters in Sejong City where they were briefed on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT)-based systems used by the Korea Fire Service as well as an overview of the 119 Emergency Rescue System structure. They also stopped by the Korean National Fire Academy in Gongju City and had sessions on Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Qualification Systems. As a bonus, the delegates were able to observe the Annual National Firefighters Competition that was ongoing at the time of their visit.

The delegates also visited the National 119 Rescue Headquarters in Namyangju City and had a lecture and sharing session regarding the Korea Disaster Relief Team, which is the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team of the Republic of Korea. As part of the visit to this site, the participants were able to familiarise themselves with the National 119 EMS helicopters and observe a USAR Simulation Exercise.

On top of that, all participants had a chance to explore Everland in Yongin City, the largest theme park in South Korea, after having a lecture session at Everland’s EOC on how medical and fire emergencies are detected, responded, and monitored within the theme park. Lastly, the delegates visited the Seoul City Emergency Operations Centre and had a session on the competitiveness of the EOC having a centralised, well-structured, and efficient disaster prevention and management system.

A productive question and answer forum followed every briefing and lecture session, showing the participants’ interest and enthusiasm to gain additional knowledge from ROK’s best practices in disaster response. ”For the Philippines, this benchmarking visit was an avenue for us to learn and share knowledge and experiences on certifying and accrediting disaster management professionals specifically pertaining to INSARAG External Classification (IEC) considering that the Philippines is pursuing to have an INSARAG-recognized National Accreditation Process (IRNAP) and IEC to further enhance our country’s USAR capability and be at par with the internationally-recognised USAR teams,” saidMs. Niña Vicedo from the Philippines. She added, We really enjoyed not just the visits and tours but also the Q&A sessions where active participation of the ASEAN delegates was evident, showing our eagerness to learn and eventually improve each of our own country’s DRRM systems and structures.”

Furthermore, Mr. Addyhanis bin Ahamad from Malaysia agreed that the benchmarking visit was a success considering that the chosen benchmarking sites are relevant and appropriately focused on the system. However, he also noted, “It could have been better if we had more time for better interaction and information sharing, especially on how Korea responded effectively during tropical cyclone threats as this is a very valuable benchmarking for ASEAN countries. For example, he observed the utilisation of subways as shelters in ROK, a good example of how public amenities can be turned into relief centres, that could be one of the benchmarking items.

The ASEAN delegates expressed their appreciation towards  the Republic of Korea, specifically to the KNFA who went above and beyond their normal duties to ensure that all participants were safe and comfortable during the visit. The generous and steadfast support of KNFA to the ASCEND project shows ROK’s commitment to the solidarity efforts of the ASEAN.

A total of 25 delegates from the ten ASEAN Member States, the ASEAN Secretariat (ASEC), the ASEAN – ROK Development Cooperation Programme Management Team (AKPMT), and the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) participated in the benchmarking visit.