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Institute holds symposium on illegal drugs, border security and disaster management

 Disaster management, illegal drug trafficking and border security dominated the third annual Current Operations Symposium sponsored by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

 “If your disaster plan is to wait for the government to come in and save me, you’ve got a bad plan,”  Mike Moore, told about 47 students earlier this week at Fort Benning’s Ridgway Hall. “If you got a bad plan, you need to be prepared.”

 Moore, a coordinating officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, joined Riley Land, deputy director of the Emergency Management Division of the Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services and other experts who shared information and answer questions.

When an emergency strikes, Land said his agency is known as the tip of the spear to deal with a crisis.

“We are the first on the scene and the last to leave,” he said. “What makes our job easier is that it is our responsibility to educate the public.”

Land said the three-day symposium which ends Thursday gave officials from different agencies a chance to share not only with Latin American neighbors but have them share ideas on being prepared as a civilian population and how the government, military and non military respond to a disaster. The institute trains military officers and law enforcement personnel from Chile, Colombia, El Salvador and other Latin American countries with a focus on democracy.

Land said there are a lot more similarities than differences with the neighboring countries. “They have a population to protect, the same as we do,” he said. “They have natural hazards, man-made hazards just like we do and we can share that experience. Maybe they have had something we haven’t had and vice versa. They are very open and willing to share their information with us just like we are with them.”

Guillermo Miranda, a retired lieutenant colonel and an executive officer in Puerto Rico on counter-drug trafficking, was at the symposium to talk about problems his country and the Caribbean face in trafficking of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Officials are seeing an increase in trafficking because of efforts to control drugs in the southern part of the United States.

“It increases the pressure to use the Caribbean as a normal place to send drugs to the market, to Europe and the United States,” he said.

Miranda said a team has been organized in Puerta Rico using state, local and federal law enforcement officers to counter drug trafficking. “All the efforts of the bad guys are to traffick the drug. It is basically to retain money and power,” he said.

Maj. Dan Rice, a student and Army chaplain, said the symposium allows students to get different views on ideas and practices from all over the world.

“This is a chance for students to talk on different levels and especially get views of different countries,” he said.