CADILLAC — Imagine being the one person responsible for mitigating the effects of a country-wide drought threatening the lives of nearly 200 million people.
Chris Peterson, fire and aviation staff officer for the Huron-Manistee National Forests, said in Nigeria, there historically hasn’t been much emergency response infrastructure in place at a local or national level, so it’s very possible some people found themselves thrust into situations similar to the one just described.
“A lot of it isn’t even written down,‘ Peterson said of the emergency response systems in place (or not in place, as it were) in Nigeria.
Peterson, a former Marion resident who recently relocated to the U.P., returned from west Africa earlier this month following several days of incident management training. He was with a small group of Forest Service and US Agency for International Development employees, who flew to Abuja, Nigeria.
According to a press release from the Forest Service, the Nigerian government is interested in adopting quality incident response techniques, such as operational planning, to improve their management in emergencies, which is why they invited American officials to provide some guidance.
“The Forest Service excels at responding to emergencies; the agency spent decades cultivating that expertise,‘ said Peterson. “It is an honor to be approached by the Nigerian government for training and I am proud to work for an agency that makes it a priority to share our knowledge.‘
During his stay in the country, Peterson said they conducted the training sessions at their hotel; when they traveled anywhere outside the hotel, they were escorted by armed guards in vehicles that could withstand blasts from roadside improvised explosive devices.
The team provided instruction on techniques for managing a myriad of situations from natural flooding to plane crashes. Instruction focused on developing a plan, understanding how to collaborate with those at the local level, and training other staff.
According to the press release, the Forest Service has a history of incident management response that stems from fighting wildfires. The agency was critical in developing the Incident Command System — the national command structure for managing not only wildfires but any natural or human-caused disaster.
Floods, droughts and disease are reoccurring challenges in Nigeria, which Peterson said isn’t alone in not having emergency plans in place in the event of a disaster. He said the Forest Service has trained officials in other countries, as well, including Mongolia and Singapore.
Of the 63 people they trained, there were representatives of both small farming communities and the national government. Some of the attendees were able to visit the U.S. to job shadow officials during the wildfire crisis in California.
Peterson said his impression of everyone who attended the training was that they were enthusiastic to learn and improve their operations.
“Classes started at 9 a.m.,‘ Peterson said. “Most of them were there at 8. You could tell they all wanted to be there.‘
Having only traveled to Canada and Mexico during his life, Peterson said visiting a country as vastly different from the U.S. as Nigeria was an eye-opener.
“They were very accepting of us,‘ Peterson said. “To be able to experience Nigeria like this has meant a lot to me.‘