Preparing for Disaster Response Missions

Preparing for Disaster Response Missions

Published in: In the Americas, the Official blog of the commander of U.S. Southern Command

By General Doug Fraser

Although natural disasters can occur at any time, June through December is a particularly susceptible season in the Caribbean basin because of the annual Atlantic hurricane season. The 2011 Hurricane Season has been active and deadly, taking over 100 lives and causing an estimated $10 billion in damage. Fortunately, nations within U.S. Southern Command’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) have not been severely affected, and no international disaster relief operations within the AOR have been required. Nevertheless, U.S. Southern Command remains ready to contribute to a U.S. response if one is requested, and is developing innovative capabilities to allow for a faster and more effective response.

One example of this innovative approach is the Pre-positioned Expeditionary Assistance Kit (PEAK). Developed in partnership with the National Defense University, PEAKs are designed to be forward staged and deployable to a disaster response area within 12 hours, providing sustainable and essential services to disaster response teams. The kit’s services include clean water, power, information sharing, and local and global communications. As we have learned from previous disasters, one of the most difficult aspects of providing an effective response is gaining an accurate assessment of the situation on the ground after communications and transportation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed. PEAKs enable decision makers to gain a better understanding of how best to deploy relief efforts.

The first PEAK Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) was held earlier this year at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, less than one year after program inception. Conducted with Joint Task Force-Bravo (JTF-B), a standing U.S. Southern Command JTF located in Honduras, alongside representatives from Honduras’s military and civil relief agencies, the JCTD assessed PEAK’s capabilities. Honduran involvement in PEAK’s operational demonstration validated its potential utility for both U.S. forces and Honduras’s disaster relief agencies, and is an example of how U.S. Southern Command helps strengthen partner nation capacity.

Another way U.S. Southern Command ensures it is ready to participate in disaster response operations is by hosting and participating in the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course (JHOC), conducted by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA). As the lead federal agency for international disaster response, USAID trains U.S. Southern Command staff members, including partner nation liaison officers, on how the U.S. military can support USAID and other humanitarian organizations during times of crisis. This recurring training guarantees that when disaster strikes, U.S. Southern Command is ready to assist.