Good noses wanted: Dogs and volunteers in Romania unite to save lives today by preparing for tomorrow’s disaster
By Alanna Simpson
A year ago, I heard about a Civil Society Organization (CSO) in Bucharest that was training pet and stray dogs to be at the frontline of forest and earthquake search and rescue efforts. This immediately caught my attention.
Every day we work here in Romania to build resilience – from retrofitting first responder buildings, such as fire stations and emergency facility buildings, to collaborating with government and municipalities on implementing decisive policies, strategic reforms and other measures aimed at reducing disaster risks. This work has been incredibly interesting and timely, yet my mind always returned to volunteer groups working with dogs.
Early this month, while visiting Bucharest, I finally had the opportunity to spend a morning with Vlad Popescu and the volunteers at Clubul Câinilor Utilitari, an organization that works to train dogs.
On this cold and windy day, we went to the forest outside Bucharest, where the dogs and their owners train for basic or advanced search and rescue principles.
So, what does this look like?
Vlad used a basketball analogy to explain how this works in reality – the dogs are trained in sessions finding the victim and barking continuously until the owner arrives or the victim stands up (like practicing shooting hoops). Later, a dog is allowed to hunt independently through the forest, trying to locate the scent of the victim (like a practice game). Then eventually, the dog is able to pull it altogether in a full-fledged “basketball game.”
On Sunday, as we celebrate the International Search and Rescue Dog Day, I intend to learn more about their role and pay tribute to these benevolent efforts.
As seen evidenced by legendary dogs such as “Frida” (from Mexico), “Darcy” (Nepal), “Racker” (USA) or “Will” (Japan), trained rescue dogs can be some of the best disaster workers at our disposal, making meaningful contributions in the immediate aftermath of a tragic disaster - their sensitive noses help them track the scent of survivors buried under rubble and debris.
Unfortunately, this type of support is not always immediately available in disaster-affected areas and dog teams sometimes have to travel from afar before being deployed. Because timing is everything when lives are on the line, robotic applications are increasingly being used in search and rescue missions to help cut costs and improve efficiency. Such machines not only reduce the duration of these missions, but also equip search and rescue teams (including dogs) with an arsenal of information, helping them arrive on-site quicker.
Like in basketball, practice and timing are essential. Romania is incorporating these best practices to strengthen preparedness efforts. These volunteers who dedicate so much time training their dogs and going on rescue missions were inspiring. Some volunteers were looking for something practical and fun to do with their dogs, rather than just walks, while others were motivated by a need to take action in the event of a disaster. For many in Romania this call to action emerged in the aftermath of the devastating 2015 Colectiv nightclub fire.
I am also incredibly proud that some of the staunchest supporters of the Clubul Câinilor Utilitari volunteers are World Bank staff members and their own dogs. The Clubul Câinilor Utilitari is also part of the Department of Emergency Situations (DSU) response mechanism and participated in the 2018 Bucharest earthquake drill – the largest earthquake simulation exercise in the European Union to date – ensuring that when a large earthquake hits, responses from both the government and CSOs will be integrated and seamless.
Indeed, Bucharest has a vibrant civil society network dedicated to scaling-up urban resilience considerations, especially in light of the recent Colectiv fire tragedy. Many are deeply concerned about the potential for a damaging earthquake. During the past year, with support from Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, the World Bank has provided space for CSOs to gather bi-monthly and exchange forward-looking ideas, find opportunities for collaboration, and join their voices to serve a greater cause.
The results are promising. On April 3, 2019, this growing coalition launched a new “Bucharest Prepared” program, managed by the Bucharest Community Foundation and backed by ING, IKEA and LIDL. This new grant funding mechanism aims to support CSOs in raising awareness on earthquake risks, create support systems in local communities, and promote life-saving behavior among citizens.
We know an earthquake will hit Bucharest, we just don’t know the exact date. Rather than sitting back and waiting for someone else to act, everyone I met earlier this month is personally and passionately dedicated to making a difference - from prevention to response. That passion and commitment inspires me over and over again.
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