Cablegate: Havana Lessons Learned From Crisis Management Exercise

Published: Thu 23 Oct 2008 01:31 PM
DE RUEHUB #0825/01 2971331
R 231331Z OCT 08
State for S/SE-O/CMS, WHA/CCA and WHA/EX
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Havana Lessons Learned from Crisis Management Exercise
Ref: FSINFATC 002235
1. On 09/30/08, USINT Havana participated in a crisis management
exercise (CME) moderated by the Foreign Service Institute's Crisis
Management Training Center. Given our recent experience with
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Post was uniquely qualified to work
through all of the challenges presented during the CME and we
utilized many lessons learned in the training scenario. Overall,
Havana benefited from the exercise by refining certain practices and
developing new ideas for dealing with a natural disaster in Cuba.
Attendees included the DCM, RSO, MGT, POL/ECON, USCG, MED, GSO, FMS,
PD, CONS, CLO, MSG and DHS offices.
2. Post's response to reftel is forwarded below and keyed to
paragraphs 2, A-H:
A. Format of the CME: Post believes that the three-hour format was
adequate based on our recent hurricane experiences. We were able to
provide a high degree of detail and specificity in our
decision-making that would not have been possible without the
experience of Gustav and Ike. Rather than deal in hypotheticals, we
knew what worked and what didn't. In retrospect, three hours is not
a long time to work through the preparation, execution and review
phases of a crisis but it allowed our Emergency Action Committee
enough time to test Havana's hurricane plan and determine what works
and what needs attention.
B. Selection of Scenarios: The hurricane scenario was appropriate
and addressed a valid concern for Post. The goal was to test our
emergency action plan for ensuring the safety and security of USINT
personnel and family members; maintaining some semblance of
operational continuity; and dealing with multiple infrastructure
problems while coordinating our response. The potential benefit of
the CME was somewhat lessened, however, by our recent experience
with Gustav and Ike. Given local conditions, a scenario involving
civil disorder and/or demonstrations which transform into a direct
threat to USINT would also be helpful for Post planning purposes.
C. Controller Intervention: Controller Michael Braxton
demonstrated keen insight to USINT's unique relationship with the
host country and the numerous logistical challenges that we deal
with daily throughout the exercise. Whether it's the difficulty of
reaching out to wardens in the pre- and post-disaster timeframe, or
coordinating TDY assistance after-the-fact, he understood that
Havana is not your normal Post. In one particularly illustrative
example, the Controller learned from Post's experience that
communication with the Department might be difficult before, during
and after a natural disaster and provided alternatives to voice or
cable updates using existing technologies.
D. What would Post do differently: The short answer is not much.
USINT feels that we have developed and tested a workable emergency
action plan for dealing with the numerous challenges inherent in a
natural disaster, as evidenced by our response to hurricanes Gustav
and Ike. The CME did provide, however, insight to alternatives for
consular/warden outreach, public diplomacy information updates, and
internet/intranet communication capabilities that we may incorporate
into our existing plan.
E. Lessons Learned: Post's EAC agreed that this was a good
exercise which forced us to reexamine various components of our EAP.
Specific examples include - how to provide the broad range of
communication updates expected by the Department via a host-country
infrastructure that is especially sensitive to atmospheric
conditions and questionable reliability; is there a better or more
efficient way to pass warden messages, update the consular
information sheets, and provide a list of what USINT can and cannot
do for U.S. citizens with regard to evacuation planning and actual
departures; and finally the need to establish more specific and
timely tripwires to work through the decision-making and logistical
processes for requesting authorized or ordered departure.
F. CMT Overview: The overview was helpful in that we had a number
of attendees who had never participated in a crisis management
exercise. They learned about the Department's emergency response
mechanism and some key background and coordination aspects that will
benefit them in future crises. In terms of improvement, Post does
not recommend any changes to the overview presentation.
G. Frequency of CME: Post feels that the current CME schedule
(every 24 to 30 months) is adequate and generally coincides with the
personnel rotation at USINT. Given Cuba's geographic location,
there is a strong likelihood that we will practice the hurricane
preparedness / disaster management portion of our EAP on an annual
or biannual basis. As to whether all posts should have an equal
opportunity to practice CME's with the same frequency, Post feels
strongly that emergency preparedness cuts across borders and threat
levels. We have learned over the last decade that all U.S.
diplomatic missions are susceptible to natural disasters, political
upheaval and terrorist attacks/attempted attacks. That - combined
with the fact that Department personnel rotate every two to three
years, and emergency planning is a perishable skill - reinforces the
notion that CME planning should apply to all Posts equally.
H. Other Comments: Post would like to thank the Crisis Management
Training Center and moderator for their assistance in planning and
facilitating the CME. Hurricane Kelsey provided a true worst-case
scenario that stretched our capabilities and forced us to consider a
post-disaster environment that hasn't been seen in Cuba (but is
certainly possible). Our EAC is better informed and cognizant of
the potential gaps and opportunities to improve our emergency action
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