The Department of Defense has long played a major role in humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR) operations due to its unique capabilities, manpower, and forward-deployed resources. The Asia-Pacific region is of particular importance because it bears the brunt of the majority of the world's natural disasters and is home to key U.S. allies. In an effort to improve the effectiveness of such operations, this report analyzes recent HA/DR operations in Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Japan, and identifies lessons that can be applied in the future.
Lessons from Department of Defense Disaster Relief Efforts in the Asia-Pacific Region
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- What lessons can be learned from recent humanitarian assistance/disaster response operations conducted in the Asia-Pacific region?
- How can the Department of Defense apply these lessons to respond more effectively to disasters, use its unique capabilities where they are most needed, and limit the costs of operations?
The Department of Defense has long been able to play a major role in international humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HA/DR) due to its unique capabilities, manpower, and forward-deployed resources. The Asia-Pacific region is of particular importance to the United States because it bears the brunt of more than half of the world's natural disasters and is home to numerous key U.S. allies. In an effort to improve the effectiveness of HA/DR operations in the future, this report analyzes recent operations in Burma, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Japan, and identifies lessons that have emerged in the areas of (1) interagency coordination, (2) communication with the affected country, (3) coordination with other state and non-state actors, (4) prospects for U.S. security cooperation and building partner capacity for HA/DR, and (5) prospects for the increased involvement of regional organizations in HA/DR. This report also identifies complementary capabilities and comparative advantages that exist around the region, presents options for leveraging these capabilities to deal with future disasters, and assesses various crisis management mechanisms involving allies and partners that can be applied to other contingencies.
Communication and Coordination with Non-DOD Assistance Providers Can Be Improved Through Exercises and Better Standard Operating Procedures
- Exercises that help improve interagency coordination have proven useful and should be further developed.
- The key to establishing better coordination between the U.S. military and IOs/NGOs is better-targeted exercises that focus more on the operational level.
- A lack of standard operating procedures between the United States and affected countries has created delays in HA/DR responses.
- Creating or improving standard operating procedures with potential HA/DR recipients requires a solid institutional and cultural knowledge of these countries.
- The authority and processes governing the use of annual Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster Assistance, and Civic Aid (OHDACA) funds lack clarity, especially in foreign consequence management (FCM)/chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) cases.
Experienced Personnel is a Key Asset for HA/DR
- It is beneficial to deploy individuals who have previous HA/DR experience on HA/DR missions because they are familiar with the relevant actors, institutions, processes, and funding sources.
- Personal connections among individuals involved in disaster response considerably facilitate coordination.
Building the HA/DR Capacity of Partner Countries Remains a Good Way of Increasing their Resilience
- Security cooperation is a primary vehicle used to prepare affected countries to respond better to their own disasters, as well as those of their neighbors.
- The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)'s HA/DR capability slowly improves but is likely to be mostly of use during mega-disasters while other emergencies will still be dealt with at the national and bilateral levels.
- Improve the Department of Defense's ability to deploy HA/DR experienced personnel.
- Enhance interagency coordination.
- Improve coordination with affected countries.
- Work more effectively with the United Nations and non-governmental organizations.
- Align security cooperation activities and regional HA/DR capabilities.
- Build goodwill through HA/DR.
Table of Contents
Cyclone Nargis (Burma)
Padang Earthquake, West Sumatra (Indonesia)
2010 Monsoon Floods (Pakistan)
The Great East Japan Earthquake/Operation Tomodachi (Japan)
Findings and Recommendations
Tracking PACOM AOR Militaries' Capabilities for HA/DR
Research conducted by
This research was sponsored by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the Defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.
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