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Florida Guardsmen particiapte in health seminar in Guyana

Jacksonville, Fla. -- Four Florida Air National Guardsmen from the 125th Fighter Wing Medical Group recently participated in a Health Disaster Management Seminar in Guyana as part of Florida's State Partnership Program.

Col. John Gallagher, Maj. Patrick Lanaghan, Master Sgt. Steven Viesselmann and Master Sgt. Brenda Cline gave presentations on water safety, public health, command and control, women's issues and emergency and disaster planning to members of the Guyana Defense Force, the Ministry of Health, Centers for Disease Control, the Civil Defense Commission and participants from the private industry sector.

The seminar is part of a larger effort by the Florida National Guard State Partnership Program to encourage partnership with foreign nations who share common homeland defense, homeland security and disaster response initiatives in an effort to strengthen international ties to meet mutually beneficial objectives.

Guyana, a South American country with a smaller population than that of Jacksonville, Fla., where the Airmen are stationed, is working to build a system to respond to disasters. The country faced its first major disaster in 2005 when severe flooding affected nearly all of the country. Since 2005, residents have dealt with additional flooding on a nearly annual basis. The Coastal Plain of Guyana, where more than 90 percent of its inhabitants live is at a low elevation, making it susceptible to flooding.

With limited access to advanced health care and limited resources, Guyana is working to build a disaster response plan to improve its capability to respond to disasters. According to a fact sheet issued by the U.S. State Department, "Medical care is available for minor medical conditions. Emergency care and hospitalization for major medical illnesses or surgery is limited, because of a lack of appropriately trained specialists, below standard in-hospital care, and poor sanitation. Ambulance service is substandard and may not routinely be available for emergencies."

"They do the best with what they have," said Viesselmann.

The benefit of the seminar was that it brought representatives from all of the country's response agencies together to discuss how they could more effective use their resources.

"This meeting was the first time all of the agencies came together," said Cline. "We were a good mediator for that."

The Airmen said the conference brought about a great deal of discussion between all of the agencies present that set a foundation for future cooperation.

"They had no idea what each others' capabilities are," added Cline.

It was a first step in an ongoing effort to assess the medical capabilities and facilities of Guyana and, as part of the partnership program, to provide them with appropriate training using the experiences and lessons learned from service members in the Florida National Guard.

The Airmen shared their experiences in managing natural disasters and stressed community involvement in emergency planning and a decentralized decision making process among the important aspects of a disaster management plan. Even with limited resources, there are small changes that could make a large impact for the small country.
"The population needs to be able to support themselves for 72 hours," said Lanaghan. "This could save hundreds or thousands of lives in the event of a large scale disaster."