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Interview with Anders Fridborg, LACER Emergency Operations Centre expert

Anders Fridborg was deployed to The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (the AHA Centre) in Jakarta and recently got back after 3 months working as an expert within the framework for the LACER project, supporting ASEAN capacity development in disaster preparedness and response.

Anders is originally a Fire Officer, having worked at management level in fire departments for more than 15 years. For the past seven years he has worked for the Uppsala Municipality as Chief Security Officer responsible for everything from public safety to crisis preparedness and civil defence.

Anders and Charles Silva at the AHA centre meeting on zoom

In this photo: Charles Silva, Carl-Johan Breitholtz (on screen), Anders Fridborg, Caroline Widagdo, Dipo Summa. Photo credit: Anastasia Ezerets

An early interest in working with humanitarian response

“My interest in international humanitarian response has been there all the time” he says and continues “I remember writing a student paper when studying Fire Protection Engineering in the early/mid-nineties about the Swedish Rescue Services Agency’s operations in former Yugoslavia. I did some interviews with Swedish fire fighters who participated as convoy drivers and thought that this is something I would like to do - in one way or another.”

In 2000 Anders, joined the Swedish Urban Search and Rescue Team (SWIFT-USAR) and was active until its termination in 2017. He is also involved in the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and has continued training and exercises in an international environment throughout the years.

Anders got involved in the LACER project while browsing the MSB website (https://www.msb.se/en/operations/taking-part-in-a-mission/) and saw the advertisement for an Emergency Operations Centre expert. “Having been responsible for two different EOCs in fire departments and specialised in command and control as well as in exercises and learning, it seemed a little too fitting not to apply. One reason was also the limited time. Three months in total, of which two on site in Jakarta, would be bearable both at home and at my everyday work at home in Sweden”.

-What is your overall impression about the project objectives relative to the state of emergency response in South East Asia? How can LACER make useful contribution?

“I believe that the LACER Project has brought experience and best practices from running a complex operation with many stakeholders. The scope is very broad, ranging from management development to coaching of leaders to exercise methodology… Some activities are shorter, like a lunch seminar on After Action Review, and some more extended like me residing there for two months. The added value of a long term stay is the possibility for more informal discussions and to form a relationship with those you are supporting. Taking the culture in the region into account, it may take a while to establish an atmosphere of open discussions.”

In this photo: Anders Fridborg, Charles Silva. Photo credit: Anastasia Ezerets

Strategic work with focus on response procedures

This was Anders first capacity development project, and he identified obvious differences from working with disaster response. In many ways the work was more strategic focusing on improvements in response procedures rather than actually managing a disaster. South East Asia is one of the most disaster prone regions in the world. Tropical cyclones, heavy rainfalls, floods, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes - almost every natural hazard except blizzards and ice storms are present.

“Their experience in handling those hazards is immense and must not be taken lightly. At the same time, the ASEAN Countries themselves identified after the severe Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 the need for a more coordinated response and to simplify the processes involved when assisting each other. The AHA Centre became the answer to that need and has been in operation since 2012. It is to some extent modelled after the ERCC in Brussels, but in my opinion the cooperation within the EUCP Mechanism has come further. Not surprisingly, having been in work for a longer time. The ASEAN union is also somewhat more of a consensus based platform than the European Union and has for instance no legislative right over the Member States.”

Understanding the region’s conditions before enhancing capacities

Anders says that the main challenges during activity implementation was to fully understand the region’s conditions and how they influence procedures and the different guidelines in use. Anders read a lot and asked a lot of questions the first weeks. When creating an exercise and building up a scenario, it is important to minimise unnecessary artificialities to reduce the risk of the participants dismissing the exercise as unrealistic or too far from normal procedures to create value.

-What sort of impact were you able to register among participants?

“Whenever someone with relevant experience and knowledge come to your own organisation, asking questions and sharing practices, there’s a learning opportunity. In the talks I had with staff members, and with their feedback on the suggestions I made on how to perform the exercise as well as the guidelines I wrote and reviewed, I felt that ideas were formed, and some new perspectives were found. Just a small example of this is that we used a fictive country for the scenario in the exercise, which hadn’t been done before. There was some resistance to the idea at first, but it turned out well and at least it was a new approach and a new tool in their toolbox.”

“Someone wrote in the evaluation of the exercise that it is good to have someone from outside the organisation viewing our work. And I hold that for being very true. “