CFE-DM celebrates 20th anniversary of the H.E.L.P. course

July 21, 2017

HONOLULU, Hawaii – Under the Hawaiian sun, four teams use plastic tarps, ropes and bamboo poles to build makeshift shelters between palm trees. With Waikiki Beach yards behind them and the tarps haphazardly secured to trees, the group of nearly 40 moves on to purifying buckets of water with chlorine bleach.

The exercises represent tasks faced by refugees, displaced persons and humanitarian responders during natural disasters and complex emergencies; the course participants are taking part in a multidisciplinary training course for managing humanitarian operations. While Waikiki is far from a disaster or conflict zone, humanitarians and military public health professionals have gathered here for two decades to take part in the Health Emergencies in Large Populations (H.E.L.P.) course.

Hosted by the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM), on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and in partnership with University of Hawaii’s Office of Public Health, the 20th anniversary of the H.E.L.P. course concludes at the Hale Koa Hotel, July 21. The two-week course emphasizes a multidisciplinary approach, weaving innovative trends, regional challenges, and lessons learned from recent natural disasters and complex emergencies into the curriculum, case studies and discussions.

“Our course blends civilian, humanitarian and military public health and disaster practitioners,” said Director Joseph Martin, CFE-DM. “It has been a unique privilege to work with the ICRC and our other partners on a curriculum that really pushes the envelope of humanitarian action training.”

The partnership between CFE-DM and the ICRC started when CFE-DM Founding Director, Dr. Frederick "Skip" Burkle, worked with the ICRC to tailor the H.E.L.P. curriculum to include a balance of civil-military participants. From the onset of the Honolulu-based course, U.S. and partner nation military personnel have been combined with civilian and humanitarian public health, disaster management, and medical professionals toward an expanded educational experience. This year, 37 professionals traveled from 16 nations in the Asia-Pacific region to participate in the course.

 “Providing healthcare instruction to a civil-military audience is extremely important,” said Paul Keen, ICRC regional cooperation advisor for Asia and Pacific. “On the field today… we meet each other all the time, but sometimes we have a different language, a different way of seeing things. Coming together in this H.E.L.P. course brings us closer to having a common language.”

The H.E.L.P. course faculty has equally diverse backgrounds; experts from academia, humanitarian organizations, and the military that provide distinct perspectives that allow a common understanding of the challenges each viewpoint faces. Subject matter experts represent the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Save the Children USA, U.S. Army Pacific, World Food Programme, Pan American Health Organization, and other academic and humanitarian training organizations.

In addition to hands-on exercises and role-playing, participants learn through case studies, simulations and lectures on public health, disaster health, management, planning, legal and ethical issues, and approaches in humanitarian action. Each participant is also required to provide a presentation on a topic related to the H.E.L.P. course of their role in a natural disaster or complex emergency.

“Each of the instructors were able to provide the roles and responsibilities, policies and guidelines for their perspective organization – military, humanitarian or civilian,” said Dr. Jennifer Joyce Pira, a medical officer for the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Cluster, Cordillera Administrative Regional Office, Philippine Department of Health. “I am able to take home a better understanding of how to best coordinate with military responders and seek additional assistance as needed from outside organizations.”

RedR Australia, an international nongovernmental training and emergency response organization with a range of experts in public health and disaster response, has supported the course since 2013. This year, Jessica Hazelwood, a senior humanitarian trainer, served as a trainer and a mentor to participants for the duration of the H.E.L.P. course.

In recognition of the 20th anniversary, the course culminated with a distinguished representation of the civil-military community. RedR Chief Executive Officer Kirsten Sayers and U.S. Pacific Command Commander Adm. Harry Harris each spoke during the closing remarks.

 “Collaborations such as the one between RedR and (CFE-DM) have the potential to resonate across the region,” said Sayers. “Our conversations and collaborations contribute to the wider conversations and reform agendas shaping humanitarian action in our region. Our collaboration can influence and inspire real inclusive action.”

Responsible for all U.S. military forces in the Asia-Pacific region, Adm. Harris’ remarks concluded the course.  “The next disaster is not an ‘if,’ but a ‘when,’” he said. “Events like this will help make us all more prepared for that eventuality.”

With the remarks over and certificates in hand, participants disperse into Honolulu. Some took the opportunity to wander from the hotel down to the beach to finally put their toes in the sand.

HELP 2017 Group Photo







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