News: Joint humanitarian operations course focuses on interagency missions
Story by Margret Menzies
VICENZA, Italy - Whether it is an earthquake in Gujarat, India, flooding in Madagascar, or a complex emergency in the Sudan, disasters can strike at anytime. The U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance routinely responds to humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions and at times relies on the U.S. military in conducting their operations.
To hone these joint response efforts, almost 40 personnel of the U.S. Army Africa attended a two-day joint humanitarian operations course taught by USAID OFDA instructors from Oct. 10-11.
“We recognize the opportunity to use our counterparts like USAID to work together to provide excellent support to countries in need,” said Col. Pedro Almeida, chief of staff for U.S. Army Africa as he introduced the course and the instructors. “This course can show the benefits of both military and civilian organizations working together; it is great to have this team here,” he said.
The course walked participants through the relationship between USAID, its partners and the U.S. military, with the main goal being to prepare U.S. Army Africa participants to work collaboratively during humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operations.
“The chaos that ensues after a disaster is not the time to learn the roles and capabilities of other agencies,” said John Zavales, USAID OFDA civilian/military humanitarian adviser and course instructor. “When you are dealing with time sensitive humanitarian operations it is an advantage to have these relationships already established.”
The two USAID instructors provided hands-on, interactive exercises to reinforce the roles and capabilities of other U.S. departments and agencies as well as the need for prior planning and speed of response. These exercises and lectures also addressed the U.S. response hierarchy in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions.
“When the United States government provides humanitarian assistance or disaster response efforts, USAID is the lead federal agency. It’s our mandate. We save lives, alleviate human suffering and reduce the economic and social impact of disasters,” said Angela Sherbenou, USAID OFDA senior adviser and U.S. Africa Command civilian/military adviser.
Responding as one USG team strengthens aid efforts and USAID can best determine an effective, efficient and appropriate response for all. Depending on the type of disaster or complex emergency and the needs on the ground, the U.S. military may become involved when they are able to provide a unique service, when the response capacity of the country is overwhelmed, or the civilian authorities request assistance.
“It’s absolutely essential for us to provide a well coordinated response, said Zavales. “Teaching courses like this to the military helps to ensure this is the response we will always give.”
Another important discussion area included action items for a joint engagement in a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operation.
Communicate, share information, link personnel, joint planning, and understand the local capacity are a few important concepts to remember in a humanitarian assistance/disaster relief operation.
“Don’t forget! You must start talking to each other,” said Sherbenou.
“Also, move the right stuff at the right time to the right people,” she said.
This action item was just one of nine concepts discussed by the instructors. Although a recent disaster photo shown during class of a pallet of Twix bars and Oreos garnered a laugh from the participants, the point hit home. A disaster is not the time to take up valuable shipping space with goodies when needs-based assistance is what is most valued at the moment.
Additionally, the course focused on presentations, participant discussion groups and case studies.