Uncertainty Clouds Disaster Relief Efforts

May 10, 2011
By Robert K. Ackerman
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The fog of war is transparent compared to the opacity of emergency humanitarian operations, according to a panel of experts with recent disaster response relief. Each operation is different, and the players-foreign governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), rescue forces and the suffering populace-contribute to difficult circumstances complicated by existing conditions. Many participants in disaster relief are well-meaning players, but their efforts are hindered by complications that arise as their efforts ramp up. In a Joint Warfighting Conference 2011 panel moderated by Dr. Linton Wells II, director of the Center for Technology and Security Policy at National Defense University, Army, Navy and Coast Guard leaders described how many rescue efforts are built on the fly as responders come to grips with diverse conditions and participants. Lt. Gen. P. K. Keen, USA, commander, Joint Task Force Haiti, advised all disaster relief personnel to take "a public affairs official, a lawyer and a contracting officer" when responding in a foreign country. Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, USN, director of the Navy Irregular Warfare Office, encouraged having an expeditionary contracting capability-"use people there," he suggested when facing catastrophic damage in a foreign country. Vice Adm. Robert C. Parker, USCG, commander, U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area, noted that responders "have to command and control" response gear, but they do not have command of the operation-they support someone else. All panelists cited the need for good communications capabilities, with Adm. Harris calling for the ability to talk in a classified or unclassified manner-the better to interoperate with NGOs and other militaries.

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