Dispatch from the Field: Hai Phong, Vietnam

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Occasionally, staff members at San Francisco DEM have an opportunity to travel abroad. They frequently write back with their observations. The following is an observation from Assistant Deputy Director, Bijan Karimi, during his visit to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Dispatch 2 – Hai Phong, Vietnam

Took at 2 hr drive from Hanoi to Hai Phong – one of Vietnam’s largest water ports located in the Red River Delta. Hai Phong is Seattle’s sister city and our first opportunity to speak with local officials about their disaster preparedness efforts. Not unlike us they face similar challenges with community engagement, funding and having to implement policies that are coming from the national government.

We were met in a formal reception area and introduced to the members of the People’s Party. They discussed how they are applying concepts of the national plan at the local level and encouraged us to as questions; however, when we did they were somewhat evasive in their responses. I sensed that it wasn’t that they didn’t want to share; rather, they couldn’t share. This reflected the central government’s influence in local discussions and what officials could and couldn’t discuss.

After a formal lunch at the provincial headquarters we visited with the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and discussed their training programs and ways to get their members more interested in disaster preparation

The next day started with a visit to the Lucerne district, home to 46,000 residents. As a county-level government they were very interested in the SF community engagement materials that we have for our own Vietnamese population. They repeatedly asked questions about the content and said they do not have access to these types of materials. The local woman’s’ group takes a significant role in disaster preparedness. They, along with children, are the primary targets for educational materials.Image

The visit to Hai Phone concluded with an MOU signing ceremony between the Mayor and the Peace Winds America Executive Director, both of whom cited their interest in working collaboratively on future exchanges related to disaster response.

One consistent theme we have heard from everyone – senior officials to business owners is the concern for the impact of climate change on Vietnam. They describe more frequent and more severe storms that lead to increased flooding and destruction.

Traveler’s Notes:

  • Sometimes you don’t need to go that far out of town to see farm animals just walking in the road.
  • There are only a few times when you can tell your boss “I had four shots of vodka at lunch and it would have been disrespectful if I turned them down.”
  • When to use your horn – let someone know you are behind, in-front, or next to them, when exiting/entering a driveway, when you think someone is going to move in front of you, when you see a friend, when you see farm animals, when you just haven’t honked your horn in a while. These are all acceptable.
  • Horns are considered essential (like tires). If yours isn’t working, you don’t drive the car.
  • When you order cat at a restaurant you pay by the Kilogram, not per cat.

Bijan Karimi is the Assistant Deputy Director for SF DEM and is currently in Vietnam as part of a sister cities exchange through PeaceWinds America. Their focus is to discuss emergency management principles with their Vietnamese partners and explore ways they can learn from one another during future professional exchanges.

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