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Abstract: The fast pace of unfolding disasters and the requirement for the response to be swift will require battle staffs to prepare early. The traditional military decision making process (MDMP) with its locked, vertical communication processes will be too slow to be completely effective. Within the MDMP, there are short cuts that can speed understanding of the operational environment, thus saving lives and contributing to mission success. Cross-understanding of staff sections’ unique lenses on missions and tasks are key. This article presents interaction between, arguably, the two most important sections in disaster response.
As the active phase of the Long War comes to a close, the U.S. Army is turning its hand to Theater Security Cooperation (TSC), particularly focusing on building partner capacity around the Pacific Rim. Many of our partner nations like the Philippines and Indonesia cover vast archipelagos, where government reach and stable infrastructure can be tenuous. Given these variable, one of the most difficult missions is Disaster Response (DR). The difficulties arise from limited time to plan, the limited ability of the affected nation to physically absorb assistance, and the ad hoc nature of the response itself. After a decade of active counter-insurgency, units are beginning to develop SOPs and training plans for Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA). Expeditionary units and joint task forces may be called upon to assist our friends in the Pacific. We offer the following as a primer on staff integration during FHA/DR. This is not an attempt to replace the current framework for describing the operational environment (OE), or the military decision making process (MDMP). Rather, this process is a filter through which the above processes become clearer when applied to FHA and DR.
Complexity of FHA/DR
It is a truism that the worse disasters occur in areas in which the Host Nation has the least ability to respond. Action must be swift, and Civil Affairs officers must always be ready to assist. Their role in Foreign Humanitarian Assistance includes assessment at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. At the operational and tactical level, the planning and synchronizing of task force efforts is complex, due to the fluid nature of two aspects of a FHA mission: One, the effects of the disaster on the civilian population, which causes massive disruptions in the normal functioning of a community, and two, the flow of friendly forces into the area, particularly non-military, non-USG agencies which may or may not provide information to the task force.
These put a particular burden on the staff intelligence section, tasked with identifying objectives which, if accomplished, lead directly to mission success. In a fluid environment, mistaking long term stability objectives and inefficient allocation of resources against problems best solved by NGO will lead to wasted effort. Ultimately, improper preparation can lead to mission failure, resulting in erosion of international credibility of the United States. As part of the planning process, the staff must conduct a civil intelligence preparation of the battlefield. Similar in purpose to the traditional IPB, this process is accomplished by a swiftly formed Humanitarian Assistance Working Group (HAWG).
Humanitarian Assistance Working Group
Civil Affairs and Military Intelligence work together in order to reduce the ‘fog of war’ during disaster response. The HA WG analyzes and visualizes the civil portions of the operational and mission variables specific to an area of interest. They apply the tenants of IPB and CA specifically to FHA/DR. In conventional conflicts, intelligence during crises and limited contingency operations “help the joint force commander decide which forces to deploy; when, how and where to deploy them.” By applying a civil IPB, the commander can gain the information necessary to selectively apply and maximize operational effectiveness at critical points in the disaster zone. As early as possible, even before PTD orders, the S/G9 and S/G2 sections should form the HA WG working group. This ad hoc organization should be physically located together in order to facilitate organizational flow- The two separate doctrines, IPB and Civil Reconnaissance, cannot proceed separately. Commanders should not expect this collaboration to simply happen. With high turnover among officers, little experience outside Iraq and Afghanistan, close supervision by the DCO or XO will be required. Conference room schedules may need to be cleared in order to facilitate work space. This may necessitate the involvement of network support if workstation and bullpen layouts need to be reconfigured. Built primarily around the CA and Intel sections, all staff cells must look at the civil landscape through their own unique war fighting function lens. Particularly, the MEDO and Engineer will also provide important information needed to understand how the disaster and response will flow. This ebb and flow of the ‘battlefield’ will little resemble the neatly linear graphics in Field Manuals and Joint doctrine. The Joint Task Force will most likely be an organization of organizations, with little trust and familiarity built up through shared work and experiences. Communication in such an environment is difficult enough without the added pressure of different languages, confused commanded structures between partner militaries and civilian agencies. In the strictly military sense, there may be no real ‘operational’ level- simply a Joint Force Commander (JFC) with a small staff, whom must immediately begin executing as resources flow into the disaster zone. The HA WG may eventually form the nucleus of the JTF CMOC which would facilitate a more seamless integration and cooperation with the wider USG effort headed by USAID.
In its analysis of the operational environment, the IPB outlined in FM 2-03.1 focuses on the mnemonics PMESII-PT and METT-TC, along with the civil considerations outlined by ASCOPE. We narrow the focus of HA WG to
- Reflect the understanding by the international HA community of key aspects of disaster response.
- Aspects of a disaster zone on which a BCT or JTF can gather and analyze information, and affect.
The following sections also represent the map layers which will best present an HA common operational picture to the commander and staff. Using the DCGS makes sharing data easy, but it is a SIPR system. This data should be kept at the unclassified level in order to make transmission to civilian and host nation partners.
Demographics and Displaced Persons
Perhaps even more so than in COIN, understanding and tracking population demographics is crucial. As is often the case, the ability of the HN to respond to a disaster is correlative to the ability of the HN to establish stability in the area, pre disaster. Long simmering conflict, invisible to the cameras, will often explode as the disaster pushes people out of stable social patterns. The HA WG must understand urban and rural population patterns; ethnic, religious, and racial divisions; Language divisions; Tribe, clan, and sub-clan loyalties; and political sympathies. Different groups of people respond to disaster in different ways- An earthquake may devastate an urban area, but leave rural areas unaffected. Pre-disaster administrative boundaries will mean little in the initial response, but as the situation matures, the HN will attempt to re-impose order along those lines. Intelligence sensors and teams at all levels can be employed in the collection process to gather this information.
The HA WG should identify routes that IDPs may be using. Transportation LOCs may be impacted for vehicular movement, but populations on foot will continue to use those routes. As small streams of civilians coalesce into larger rivers of IDPs, this information needs to be transmitted to early recovery groups and the task force mobility assets. Depending on the geography of the disaster area, a washed out bridge may create an impassible bottleneck. These areas where there are build-ups of IDPs are rarely ideal locations for IDP camps; however, many of the problems such impromptu camps generate are similar: family separation, unaccompanied children, and violence. In many marginal societies where women are expected to be accompanied by men, disasters often create separations. Where large groups begin to form, sexual violence may be perpetrated against these vulnerable persons.
The HA WG will be able to Identify large open areas in which IDPs will tend to congregate. Early analysis must determine if these are likely farms and fields. It is important for the long term recovery that IDPs are not allowed to ‘squat’ in these temporary camps. Unfortunately, IDP camps tend to become ‘semi-permanent’, exacerbating long term economic and agricultural recovery. Aside from distributing food, water and basic medical care, moving displaced persons into long term and UNHCR supported camps will provide the biggest challenge. For a BCT or similar US Army unit, handling large numbers of IDPs will not be dissimilar to the caretaking of large numbers of EPW- search, silence, segregate, safe guard, speed to the rear. Obviously, there some differences, notably, IDPs are frightened, hungry and homeless, not enemies. But for an infantry unit pressed into a DR role, it is not a bad rule.
People will fall back on informal networks when a disaster destroys the functional mechanisms of formal networks. Christian churches in particular tend to have very strong informal bonds for a number of reasons. At first blush, this is a good thing, but examined at second and third order effect, it can create problems. Strong informal networks allow groups to quickly organize in disasters. A leader in the afore-mentioned church quickly accounts for most of the congregation who have gathered together in an impromptu camp. He or she requests rations for those people, creating an impression that relief authorities are favouring that sect. A mosque a short distance away is able to organize quickly in the same way. Now, with two well organized groups pursuing the same scarce goods (food, shelter and water), conflict becomes more likely. With the religious affiliations of the two groups, conflict can easily be mislabelled as religious in nature, when it is economic. The two types of conflicts have two very different trajectories and ultimate solutions. A religious conflict can become persistent in nature, and spread well beyond the disaster affected area. Grievances over perceived slights to sacred values become generational and elude solutions. A fight over resources presents much less of a problem.
Malign and Criminal Elements
Violence can also come in the form of malign criminal elements. The HA WG needs to identify gangs and other organizations that may begin operating in IDP areas. In ethnically fractured areas, disasters often force one ethnicity into another’s area. This will often trigger violence. The HA WG should communicate early and often with early deployers, such as the HAST, or the country team in order to access to already assembled area studies which will identify ethnic cleavages. Intelligence should also look at areas where unwanted elements may attempt to gain influence over the affected population. This could feed information operations that counter the influence of malign elements. As the response time lengthens, there may be groups that will oppose friendly force operations. Some groups may clandestinely oppose the operation even though they publicly pledge support. The WG must also consider what LOCs used to move supplies and IDPs are close to groups that may try to interdict those movements. Early evaluation of the threat posed by gangs, paramilitaries, terrorist groups or individuals, insurgents, guerilla forces, or other organized forces will facilitate the transition, if needed, from a permissible, to semi-permissible, to hostile environment.
This is close to the traditional role of the S2, and influences ROE and weapons status. Criminal Proliferation Networks (CPN) should be monitored closely and information on their activity relayed to the JTF security elements. The danger is that the threat from organized CPN may by exaggerated. This could create a volatile situation in which different classes of criminal activity is grouped together. This would prompt local commanders to assume the worst threat which would force them to apply the most risk-mitigating measures- lethal force. Inexperience working among civilians will only get worse as our experienced combat veterans transition out of the force.
Medical officers on staff will play an integral role in the HA WG. They will need to develop disease vectors and monitor the health status of IDPs. The number of medical NGOs which will operate under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO) will focus on delivering aid at the point of need. The medical officers (the planners, not doctors) of the HA WG need to analyze the overall health delivery system and evaluates the needs in order to more accurately respond to requests for assistance when the NGOs are overwhelmed. The WHO stresses the importance of first understanding the local vector ecology and local patterns of disease transmission. The environment may pose threats to the health of both friendly forces and HN personnel in the forms of waterborne diseases, spoiled or contaminated foodstuffs, and other environmental hazards. The pressure to distribute health sector supplies, where delays may have dire consequences, is especially intense. Early detection of diseases and break-outs must be transmitted to both the logistics and medical sections. This will alleviate supplies piling up at the HA entry point, or bottlenecking along LOCs. Close coordination with the MEDO in the HA WG and medical team at the CL VIII warehouse will help smooth out acute shortages of supplies.
Host nation officials are more willing to share information in the aftermath of a disaster when the effects are visible, so very quickly, the MEDO must capture information about the HN health infrastructure. This will allow the HAWG to concentrate on getting care to the most distant points of the disaster area. It has been observed that in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, casualties will self-transport towards HA points of entry. If this is the case, then those casualties receiving the most immediate medical aid are not the most injured. This combined with the damaged infrastructure may mean that first response medical teams will not be able to move far beyond the APOE or SPOE. This turns the triage system on its head. The JTF must prepare to move its medical assets further afield pending this early analysis.
Logistics and Mobility and Weather
The single largest function in DR is emergency supply logistics. Medical, camp and ration supplies must be coordinated through the supply chain in order to useful. Logistics and distribution in disasters is unpredictable demand in terms of timing, geographic location, type of commodity, quantity of commodity; short lead time and suddenness of demand for large amounts of a wide variety of products and services.
This is where the JTF DR mission differs from stability operations with its emphasis on reconstruction. In the time that a JTF is deployed to assist, there will probably be little LOC reconstruction taking place. What the HA WG must do is determine, very quickly, the condition of LOCs to support the distribution of relief goods. In the absence of a HN distribution system (which is another one of those ‘established patterns’), the HA WG needs to determine what areas will serve as distribution points. Most likely, the overall disaster coordinator will want the military to push distribution points as far from the APOD or SPOD as possible. This makes the best use of the JTF mobility assets and alleviates the pressure of IDP movement toward the HA points of entry, and allows smaller NGO, with no transport capabilities, to care for victims closer to their bases of operations. Along with movement, the HA WG should identify storage facilities and requirements. Even in a permissive environment security requirements will begin to multiply. Security along destroyed LOCs and at distro points may be problematic and once storage locations are identified, criminal elements may begin to target those facilities with theft or pillage.
Humanitarian personnel may be unfamiliar with standard accounting and stock-control procedures and will be unable to interoperate with JTF logistics systems. Supplies may be piling up at the central level while acute shortages are painfully evident at the emergency site. Unsolicited—and often inappropriate—donations also compete for storage and transport facilities that may be in short supply.
Finally, consider weather as a threat. Weather has the potential to completely unhinge a disaster response. Support functions housed on ships may not be able to ride out a strong storm if the disaster zone is far from safe anchorages. In the absence of a special weather officer (SWO), the HA WG will need to consider the effects of weather, not just on operations, but on the civilians as well. If the target of a relief effort is a village isolated by mudslides or another natural disaster, inclement weather may limit or curtail air operations to the site. Cold weather could freeze water and unprotected food, increasing the logistical burden on the JTF. Cold weather will make LOC repair more difficult, and thawing conditions may make some unimproved roads impassable. Engineers can provide analysis on general ground mobility questions to the HA WG.
NGOs and IOs
Often lumped together in military doctrine, International organizations and Non-governmental organizations may differ significantly and the characteristics of both lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. IOs, like the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have large staffs, often with an established presence in the disaster area. They are held to professional standards and have their own rules and regulations for dealing with militaries. IOs will readily share information with USAID/OFDA, and understand the role a US JTF will play in DR. Other smaller groups fall under the ‘NGO’ aegis. These groups are under no requirement to submit to or coordinate with any authority other than the HN, which may be too overwhelmed to exercise any control. These NGO truly become ‘free radicals’ on the battlefield. Some groups will appear willing to work with the JTF, but only along narrowly defined terms and roles. They report to no one, and while their relationship with the local Host Nation authorities may be good, they won’t necessarily coordinate their activities with others. Some NGOs are driven by ideological passion and will be downright hostile to proximity of US JTF elements. Ultimately, NGO should be considered as adjacent units, and tracked on the Ops Center. Their movements and capabilities need to be known as much as possible in order to avoid duplicating efforts. Some NGO will not work in the vicinity of US military forces, and this should be annotated- No reason to cause anger or distrust between what is essentially, two organizations on the same side. One of the keys to understanding the NGO terrain is discovering the enabling relationships between IOs, with their funding, and NGOs. OFDA and USAID often have existing operational links and grants relationships with many NGOs and IOs that have relief programs outside the United States. As the database of HA actors in the zone grows, this information should be captured and briefed daily in an effort to maintain military separation from the humanitarian space.
Finally, disasters always attract media attention, particularly when the US military is asked to help. Unit Public Affairs sections should be prepared to handle potentially explosive requests. The tight space between disaster relief and death create a media frenzy driven by a sophisticated global media and the high anticipatory attention of the donors. The unit should integrate information campaigns and delivery of relief in order to offset the potential of riots and demonstrations to impair the credibility and effectiveness of JTF efforts. Anticipate, to as great an extent as possible, the attempts by HN authorities to use the disaster and subsequent DR for political gain.
Ultimately, preparing for FHA/DR is difficult. The requirements differ significantly from the typical offense, defense and stability operations seen in wide area security and combined arms maneuver. In a disaster, the staff may find itself supporting a task organized response tailored around the BSB or BSTB. The RSTA battalion may find itself conducting civil reconnaissance at the squad level. Even individual truck drivers will need to understand the wider OE, not just a simple who, what, when, where, and why. The HA WG should be prepared to push all products out to everyone, not just the next echelon. From the beginning to the end, it will be absolutely critical to keep as much information as possible in the ‘unclassified’ arena. Where networks and equipment are at the SIPR level, Foreign Disclosure Officers should be on standby to declassify information quickly.
As the JTF establishes operations, the HA WG should transition to steady state operations through the CMOC. Using the deep knowledge gained from HA WG, it can better integrate, coordinate and synchronize JTF and interagency FHA operations. In whatever form the HA WG becomes, it should continually update the common operational picture, including the political situation, physical boundaries, and potential threats to forces. Media interest and the visibility of JTF operations become key tasks for the Public Affairs section. As the HA WG functions transition to the CMOC, the unit will have a great deal of information available as to the efficacy of the support given to the international community by the JTF. This will allow quality control assessments of tasks and assisting in the arbitration of problems. As in any combined operation, transition should be planned early in order to effectively hit the measures of performance that will lead to mission success. The HA WG should hand off to the CMOC any identification and analysis of additional HA resources which are anticipated, available, or may be needed. Updates to the commander should advise the JFC of USG and UN plans for the long-range mitigation of political, economic, legal, social, and military issues associated with FHA activities.
Ultimately, true success in disaster response will only be assessed years, possibly decades later. At best, a JTF does its job invisibly, practically unnoticed by the wider international response. At worst, an unprepared JTF can foul logistical lines, delay efforts, and be seen in the eyes of the world as an expensive sine cure to domestic conscience. An effective HAWG is a step towards avoiding the latter.
 Department of Defense, JP2.0, Joint Intelligence, GPO, Washington DC, 2007, pg xii.
 World Health Organization, Humanitarian Supply Management and Logistics in the Health Sector, Washington, DC. 2001, pg 4.
 World Health Organization, Humanitarian Supply Management and Logistics in the Health Sector, Washington, DC. 2001, pg 69.
 Erik Auf Der Heide, “The Importance of Evidence-Based Disaster Planning,” Annals of Emergency Medicine, Vol 47, No 1, pgs 34-39.
 World Health Organization, Humanitarian Supply Management and Logistics in the Health Sector, Washington, DC. 2001, pg 33.
 “AID Policy: The myth and mystique of humanitarian space,” IRIN, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, London, 2 May, 2012 found at http://www.irinnews.org/report/95394/aid-policy-the-myth-and-mystique-of-humanitarian-space