as always in the wake of natural disasters there are those who argue back and forth what should change or what has to be upheld. Every time a natural disaster happens there is some degree of chaos, especially in the initial phase that is during the ongoing event in the hours or first couple of days immediately after whole countries or at least regions are devastated.
Some people choose the theoretical approach, while others tend to learn from every single disaster and draw conclusions from what actually happened each time and where things went relatively smoothly while elsewhere chaos ruled much longer than in the initial hours.
Should the US ‘Send In the Marines’ After Hurricanes? [Defense One, Oct 12 2017]
Some argue that laws should be upheld to prevent the military to play a broader role in disaster relief operations while obviously people dying and suffering from a bureaucratic approach to disaster relief.
What is also overlooked that natural disasters can impact either a small area with only a few people affected or such an event can affect many areas, many different states. As stated earlier disasters don't give a rat's ass about human borders, jurisdictions, laws, state organization. Disaster strikes, infrastructure gets destroyed, people die immediately, get hurt immediately or suffer in the aftermath by the lack of food,water,electricity,communication or medical care.
Some people describe the impact of e.g. major hurricanes as a 'war zone' while others even talk of scenario as if a 'atomic bomb' hit an area. The latter comparisons are always misplaced because no natural disaster, except perhaps the impact of a large chunk of debris from space - asteroid or meteor - will cause as much complete destruction. Nevertheless infrastructure is often crippled, many pillars of civilian life knocked down and not only has the military the kind of equipment needed to match that very 'basic' conditions, but they also have the ability to react swiftly by using their assets for initial damage assessment. Sometimes science will give us a pretty good idea what is to be expected from a certain kind of disaster which is forecast to happen. Like those very accurate models for hurricane paths and strength on the one hand and various earlier incidents with similar wind speeds. Sometimes there are no big surprises, but an initial thorough aerial assessment is needed nevertheless to determine what kind of response in needed.
Every disaster of level 0 could be left to pure civilian response, but from level 1 upwards some or a full deployment of military forces is needed. At least when the primary objective is too save as many lives as possible and not cost efficiency, upholding bureaucratic structures, etc. A swift assessment by the military could then activate a response plan , already worked in advance. A plan than has several stages. Stage one should be purely military, since several command structures working simultaneously in one area can only result in chaos. The military assessment team will give an estimate of what assets have to be deployed and what number of troops from what divisions.
The military should have sufficient intelligence of what objects are located where and they will have to make sure that all those vital objects report their operational status to a command center. If local governments are able to do this job it's good, but the info should then be shared with central command.
One of the first objectives should be to secure vital objects like hospitals, gas stations, government buildings, radio & TV stations, civilian communications and to make sure all of those have sufficient power to operate, security at the place to prevent criminals from interfering.
Joint task force(UK/FR/NL) for relief effort re islands hit by Irma/Maria
UK sets up joint Caribbean Coordination Cell with French and Dutch allies [royalnavy.mod.uk]
After initial individual response by their national armed forces, the three countries established a joint task force in order to better coordinate the rescue & relief effort on all islands impacted by those two powerful hurricanes.
Some of the islands affected by those hurricanes are divided by national borders. So some jurisdictions are very close to each other, but so far national governments had to deploy own troops to cope with the aftermath of the disasters. So for the (small) island of St. Maarten/Saint Martin that means that the Dutch Navy, Coast Guard and Air force deployed to the Dutch side of island(Sint Maarten) , and the French took care of their side (Saint Martin). The civilian aid effort by e.g. the EU was also hampered by the different status of Sint Maarten. While Saint Martin remained French overseas territory, Sint Maarten is just member of the NL commonwealth, but independent since a few years. It took the EU some weeks to decide that both parts of the island will be treated equally in regard of financial aid.
The Dutch Navy deployed the biggest vessel - Karel Doorman - initially to Sint Maarten, packed with heavy equipment and tons of relief supplies. Before it sailed to the Caribbean it took some equipment from the UK on board. When it finally arrived in the Caribbean area another hurricane hit the island of Dominica hard and the Netherlands deployed the Karel Doorman to Dominica after delivering aid to Sint Maarten. Two smaller Dutch Navy vessels delivered food and water to Dominica earlier.
Schip Karel Doorman voor hulp naar Dominica [Oct 15 2017]
It's clear that those small island nations aren't capable of coping with the aftermath of hurricanes that make landfall with category 4 or 5 strength. Some meteorologists estimate that the wind impact is quite similar to a tornado category 3-4 on the Fujita scale. The damage inflicted on buildings is quite the same, only the area/number of people affected by it is much larger. A hurricane covers wide areas, affect many people and those small island nations
don't have even enough food/water supplies to meet the demand of a suffering population. Construction materials, spare parts for the electricity supply and telecommunications are often also not found in sufficient amounts on those islands. So it's not only a question of taking care and feeding the people, but also of logistics in general. Often the civilian logistics infrastructure is either heavily damaged or completely destroyed. In the case of Puerto Rico there was even a lack of truck drivers available to resupply super markets or to deliver bottled water. There was no strike, as some rumors initially suggested, but those truck drivers took care of their own destroyed houses, looked after their families and had often big problems to get to their employers because roads have been blocked, destroyed or their cars were damaged, no gasoline available in the place they lived.
More than 132 tons of UK aid has also already arrived in the region and at the peak of relief efforts, there were more than 2,000 UK military personnel working in the Caribbean – “making it the largest deployment of British troops anywhere in the world.”source: UK Joint Task Force head says territories 'moving back towards normality' after Hurricane Irma devastation [Jamaica Observer, Oct 8 2017]
The stages of military deployment, mixed NGO & mil deployment and pure civilian responsibility
1. pre-planning phase (predictable disasters only)
2. damage assessment phase
3. military deployment, logistic chain setup, search & rescue, rescue & relief
4. mixed military & civilian (NGO) rescue & relief effort
5. handing over responsibilty to local governments and NGOs
Puerto Rico:NGOs forced to rely on radio amateurs
The last blog entries regarding appropriate response was written in the wake of hurricane Irma and described communication problems and solutions. Since the response to hurricane Maria's impact on the island of Puerto Rico was not the one needed by a sufficiently staffed and led by a central command structure, it was almost inevitable that 'the usual chaos' and the 'random response' will happen. First the American Red Cross made an appeal to the ARRL for 50 radio amateurs who should have some experience in disaster response to be dispatched to the devastated island and later the salvation army also made use of some members of this association of American ham radio operators. Volunteers were found and dispatched, but this process took some days, while many people on the island had no access to running water during tropical heat. Fortunately not that many people suffered life threatening injuries, otherwise those patients with open wounds could have died easily without proper medical treatment. Hurricane damage, as bad as it is, is not similar to the damage caused by earthquakes which usually produces a lot of broken bones, traumas , open wounds and infections. The use of radio amateurs for establishing communications was a 'must' 30-40 years ago, when there was no or not sufficient equipment for satellite based communication, and the point made earlier was that if the police would insist that people walk to the nearest police station in order to report a crime, some 30 years after the invention and the widely use of telephones, it would be considered pretty ineffective. The military including the National Guard has specialized teams with state of the art satellite communication equipment and also the means to deliver those vital comms specialists and their equipment even to the remotest places on earth since their organisation also have airlift capabilities. So instead of a roughly week from first appeals of NGOs to the deployment of amateurs, it could only take a few hours by the 'A-team' to accomplish the same if not more.
American Red Cross Asks ARRL’s Assistance with Puerto Rico Relief Effort [ARRL, Sep 24 2017]
Salvation Army Seeks Amateur Radio Operators for Possible Caribbean Deployment [ARRL, Sep 29 2017]
Amateur Radio Volunteers in Puerto Rico Meet a Variety of Communication Needs [ARRL, Oct 4 2017]
When it takes a week or even longer to deploy basic communication means to a disaster area, the assessment of local need can only start from this point and precious time is wasted. There were also some deaths reported in Puerto Rico which occurred due to the lack of power for life support systems in medical facilities. This could be avoided when real rapid response teams by the military secure those medical facilities first, give them back their communication skills and the electricity they need to power their medical equipment including those machines vital for life support in intensive care units.
Why use soldiers, not NGOs for handing out food and water ?
A legit question, but we also have to question if it makes sense to use (expensive) airlift capacity for delivering tons of bottled water to remote islands, surrounded by water. The initial response of Navy vessels with their own desalination capability already gave the answer. Navy vessel and especially aircraft carrier do have the equipment needed to pump potable water. Desalination plants and bottling machines can also be flown in and produce urgently needed water locally. 100 tons of such equipment is worth perhaps 100k (or even more) tons of water which doesn't need airlift or delivery by naval vessel.
Judicial obstacles which prevent the use of own military domestically
In the German case their Constitution forbid the use of their military (Bundeswehr) after the second World War. The local German disaster of 1962 where some levies in the Hamburg area were not strong enough to withstand the forces of the storm surge was also already mentioned here on this blog. Interior senator (minister) Helmut Schmidt took over command and fully aware that he was violating the German Constitution he asked not only for assistance by the German Army - the Bundeswehr - but went a step further and called NATO HQ for additional troop deployments my NATO allies (which had many bases at the time in Germany as well).
Military response training not only useful for natural disasters
The history of more recent wars has showed us very clearly that much planning was done for invading other countries and to subdue their military quickly and without taking too many own casualties.
Victory was often swift by very high skilled US and NATO forces, but the real problems in those wars began, when the main fighting activities subsided and the civilian infrastructure was heavily damaged or even completely destroyed.
The planning of 'the day after' was not as thoroughly as the attack and it's fair to say that most of the own casualties resulted not from the initial attack phase, but from the chaos in those occupied countries. Although the perfect logistics was in place for transporting ammo and supplies for the own troops, there were no stockpiles of generators, spare parts, medical equipment for x number of places, towns and cities. The military planned for rapid destruction and not for rapid putting the devastated countries back on their feet by substitution of all equipment and vital infrastructure which was destroyed earlier.
Armed resistance also was formed, because people had no job, the local economy didn't work and people have been angry that nothing or not much worked. From running water , sewage treatment, electricity, communication to security. If a country is left devastated only few people have to wonder that everything goes downhill. So no matter what caused the major disruption of civilian life - a natural or a man made (war) disaster - the result is pretty much the same.
It's said that generals only fight the last wars, and after a few wars with many also own casualties taken in the years after the 'main event' it's 'perhaps' time to rethink the concept of warfare in order to offset the destructive effort with a constructive role.
A routine in evacuations also useful for war zones.
Where ever a new war breaks out, civilians and also tourists/visitors/foreigners will be affected. World travel has increased significantly and more people are 'abroad' than ever before. Expats have chosen to live abroad, business people working in overseas branches of their company, tourists stay in hotels, are travelling up/down whole continents.
'Well oiled' rescue & relief effort a boost for international relations
There are worries that a 'militarization' of relief efforts could by 'tricky', because the people of foreign nations could see those soldiers as 'invaders'. It might be a good idea to ask Pew research or YouGov to ask those people in the Philippines and Nepal what they really think about the efforts of the US Navy and the Indian Army ! While monitoring those disasters closely no indications could be found that locals who were assisted to overcome the worst effects of those disasters issued any statements of disapproval. Maybe it wasn't reported appropriately by local newspapers, but monitoring social media activity by common citizens during those calamities didn't indicate any criticism as well. On the contrary people appealed in many cases directly to the foreign troops and told was needed and posted their gratitude after the tasks were completed.
HMS Bulwark and Albion are out of date military capabilities and should be mothballed or given to DFID. Interesting letters in the Telegraph pic.twitter.com/2MJTaxydCp— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) October 27, 2017