Exercise Athena will be held in late 2016. The exercise comprises two components, a departmental and international component. The international aspect of Exercise Athena will promote awareness and support for the International Animal Health Emergency Reserve (IAHER) arrangement which allows signatory countries to share personnel in an Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) event. The departmental component will assess the ability of the department to support one or more affected jurisdictions, by deploying departmental staff in response to a biosecurity incident. In one of the first exercises of its kind in the animal health field, Exercise Athena will involve agricultural government agencies from the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Quads group of countries - Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. Exercise Athena aims to assess the IAHER Operations Manual, which guides the use of the IAHER arrangement, and demonstrate the arrangement’s benefits to all signatory countries and how it can be utilised in the future. The exercise will also enable the department to identify potential improvements and best practice examples in respect to identification, selection, deployment and repatriation of departmental staff during a response.
In 2004, a high-level arrangement between Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States was signed which allows these countries to share personnel and resources during an exotic animal disease outbreak.
The IAHER network developed a draft operations manual which sets out agreed policies, procedures and templates that will enable personnel to be rapidly deployed to a member country during an emergency outbreak. A draft version of the operations manual was endorsed in April 2016 with a requirement that an exercise be held to test the manual.
As part of the department’s continuous improvement process, this exercise will also enable further review of the processes and procedures the department employs in respect to the identification, selection, deployment and repatriation of staff during responses.
About the exercise
The exercise scenario will be held between 21 November and 2 December 2016 and will simulate an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease in Australia, where multiple jurisdictions are infected. Australia will be the recipient country.
The exercise provides an opportunity for signatory countries to practice their roles in the IAHER arrangement. At the departmental level there is also an opportunity to train and raise awareness for staff in relation to the requirements of participating in a response. Australia will need to identify the type of personnel/skills and resources it requires to manage the outbreak, while the donor countries will need to identify, select and prepare personnel for deployment under the IAHER Arrangement. Any lessons identified will be incorporated into the manual, with a view to having the final manual endorsed in 2017.
Exercise Athena is a functional exercise with all activities occurring within each signatory country’s agency offices. No personnel will actually be deployed to or within Australia.
Each participating country will communicate internally (within their agencies) and with their stakeholders to provide information about the exercise. It is important that the exercise is not mistaken for a real disease event so the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) will also be informed and asked to circulate this information to member countries.
Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilisation, law and justice, strategic warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.
She is known most specifically for her strategic skill in warfare and is often portrayed as companion of heroes and is the patron goddess of heroic endeavour.