Posts Tagged ‘emergency response’

A week ago the island nation of Haiti was subjected to a very strong earthquake.  We have all seen the devastation that has resulted. Thousands of buildings collapsed, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people have died.  President Obama immediately pledged a massive assistance effort. Many other countries have also responded to the catastrophe. The U.S. has pledged nearly $155 billion in aid – more than any other country in the world.  Other major contributors (more than $10 billion) are the UK, Sweden, Brazil, France, Germany and China. The U.S. has responded with elements of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and the Coast Guard, yet it is all too obvious that the assistance is not enough and it has not been fast enough.

People are still being pulled out from under the rubble of collapsed buildings, but who knows how many people are still trapped and how many will die without being rescued? Now we see that people who have been rescued are dying from infected wounds because there is insufficient capability in the medical aid units. There are not enough doctors, medicine, or equipment.  There is a shortage of food. There is a shortage of water. There is a lack of organization. Haiti is not only the scene of a disaster that occurred a week ago; it is the scene of a continuing human disaster.

One would have thought that we might have learned our lesson from Katrina, or maybe from the Southeast Asian tsunami. But we didn’t. We continue to go on believing that in the event of a major catastrophe our military will save us. After all, aren’t they capable of anything? The sad answer is “no”.  The U.S. military is not the fire department. They are not the ambulance service.  They are not a rescue organization.  While well-intentioned, the U.S. military does not have the right tools, training, or organization to be an effective first responder to disasters.  For one thing, they just take too long to respond.  How many days did it take before the Hospital ship Comfort to arrive?  How many days before the Marines arrived? How many MASH-type of Army field hospitals have been deployed?

Despite the massive movement of military people and equipment, the U.S. aid arrived too late and with the wrong capabilities. Was it better than nothing? Of course it was.  However, the lesson from all of this is obvious: we need an organized Emergency Response Organization – an organization than can provide the right kind of help immediately when natural or man-made disasters strike.  The simple fact is that the surface of our planet is a dangerous place to live.  We are always under the threat of earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes, meteors, and man-made explosions.  Why is it that we have the foresight to realize that we need a vast military capability to protect us in the event we are attacked but we don’t seem to realize that we are always in danger from all sorts of other disasters, and we have no effective rapid response capability? One might say that we have fire departments and police departments for that. And it is true, we do.  But these agencies would be overwhelmed by an event like the earthquake in Haiti. We need a national capability that can respond rapidly to truly major emergencies.

The remarkable thing is that no one in our government seems to understand this. There are no calls to establish such a capability, even though the evidence is right before us. It could have just as easily been us, “but for the grace of God”.  Haiti is a disaster of immense proportions, but it is also a message to anyone who cares to listen.  We are not prepared, and while we may never be attacked by another of the world’s nuclear powers, one thing is certain – it is only a matter of time before a catastrophic event like the one that destroyed Haiti’s capital strikes the U.S. too.  That is the message and lesson of Haiti that we need to think about.

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