Lungi International Airport, Lungi Town, Port Loko District, December 8, 2023 – In a concerted effort to bolster the nation’s preparedness for emergencies, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), in collaboration with the World Bank, has ended a comprehensive five-day national simulation exercise focusing on search and rescue operations.
This exercise, held at the Lungi International Old Airport in Port Loko district has been made possible through funding from the Resilient Urban Sierra Leone Project (RUSLP), a flagship initiative of the World Bank aiming to fortify integrated urban management, service delivery, and disaster emergency management across Sierra Leone.
The simulation exercise commenced on the 4th and concluded on the 8th of December 2023, this national simulation exercise was meticulously designed to assess, enhance, and evaluate the NDMA’s readiness and capacity in preventing and responding to search and rescue emergencies. Its overarching objective is to fortify the mechanisms essential for constructing a resilient and disaster-ready nation.
Under the auspices of the RUSLP, which targets the enhancement of integrated urban management, service delivery, and disaster emergency management primarily in the Western Area and secondary cities throughout Sierra Leone, this exercise assumes paramount significance in evaluating and augmenting the NDMA’s preparedness to tackle real-time crises effectively. The participation in the simulation exercise included over 150 stakeholders drawn from various government Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), Airport Authority, and local governing authorities within the district.
The exercise was designed to furnish the above-mentioned stakeholders with practical knowledge, equipping them with the requisite skills to conduct search and rescue operations and respond adeptly to emergencies. During the presentation, outlining the scope of the simulation exercise, John Vandy Rogers, the Deputy Director-General of NDMA extended a warm welcome to all participants. He underscored the invaluable benefit of this simulation for numerous entities involved in aeronautical search and rescue functions, such as air traffic controllers, civil aviation authorities, airport emergency units, and the military.
“Institutions, communities, and individuals tend to respond to emergencies in line with their response capacity to the emergency. This simulation aims to significantly enhance the capabilities of institutions, communities, and individuals in managing such crises,” remarked the DDG. He further emphasized the pivotal role of the exercise in empowering participants to mitigate and respond effectively to disasters and emergencies within their respective communities.
In a keynote address, Dr. Umaru Bond Wurie, the Resident Minister of the northwest region, emphasized that Sierra Leone must be thoroughly prepared for various Search and Rescue (SAR) scenarios. He lauded the efforts of the NDMA and the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA) for choosing the Lungi Airport and materializing the simulation exercise and urged all members to approach the training with utmost seriousness to bolster their capacities. Dr. Wurie stressed that the training is instrumental in ensuring the safety of the airport during times of crisis, emphasizing the collaborative efforts needed among all agencies to ensure success.
Air Navigation Service/Search & Rescue Inspector, Handel Fergusson from the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority elucidated SLCAA’s obligations concerning SAR activities within Sierra Leone, stressing the need for compliance with international and national regulations. He highlighted the significant agreements and regulations governing SAR activities, emphasizing the importance of coordination as stipulated in Article 25 of the Chicago Convention. Fergusson further highlighted the roles outlined in the Civil Aviation Act of 2023, stressing that interagency cooperation is required for effective SAR operations. He recommended the establishment of a 24-hour search and rescue plan and emphasized the necessity of bilateral agreements with other nations for SAR activities.
Alinton Zoryea from Robert Flight International Region in Liberia shed light on the establishment of the Rescue Coordination Center in Liberia back in 1975, a collaborative effort involving Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Zoryea underscored its pivotal role in providing Air Traffic Control Services, particularly during distressed aircraft situations, with its primary objective being the assurance of passenger safety and welfare.
Paul Murphy, a consultant from the World Bank, underscored the crucial aspects of Health, Safety, and Welfare in operational response and assessment during SAR operations. Murphy outlined the legislative binding nature of SAR projects, emphasizing NDMA’s role as the service provider tasked with coordinating SAR projects. He succinctly defined SAR as “The search for and Provision of aid to people who are in distress and imminent danger,” highlighting the significance of the training in executing SAR action plans and evaluating operational outcomes.
Facilitated by NDMA’s Chief of Corporate Services, Kai Banya, Director of Relief and Response, Sinneh Mansaray, and other NDMA staff with support from the RUSLP team members, this comprehensive exercise stands as a pivotal step towards enhancing Sierra Leone’s disaster preparedness and response capabilities.