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NEWS | July 10, 2014

RIMPAC Sets the Scene for Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief

By Capt. Dora Lockwood Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Public Affairs

U.S. 3rd Fleet (C3F) conducted a two-day scene setter here for the multinational and interagency participants of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) scenario of the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise 2014 July 5-6.

Cmdr. Eddie Yandoc, C3F's lead HA/DR planner set the scene by describing the disaster that exercise participants will respond to in the coming days and weeks.

"What we are trying to do is bring together a coalition so disaster relief efforts are better coordinated," said Yandoc. "The goal is to have a better understanding of what assets are available and how best to employ them."

One of the key objectives of the HA/DR scenario is to have greater civil-military interaction and cooperation.

"We will have heavy interagency participation during this year's exercise," said Yandoc. "As militaries we run exercises and we know how to work together. The countries represented here are comfortable working in a military environment, but in many cases we don't have the opportunity to work with other agencies until we are in a real disaster. We are here to learn together in a controlled environment, so we can better respond in a real-world situation."

In addition to country capabilities briefings, representatives from several agencies discussed best practices of civil-military engagement, humanitarian aid and foreign assistance. Presentations were given by United States Agency of International Development (USAID), Australian Civil Military Centre, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Project HOPE.

Rene Van Slate is the humanitarian assistance advisor at U.S Pacific Command for USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). She explained that when disaster strikes and assistance is requested by a host nation, OFDA is the U.S. governmental agency responsible for coordinating the U.S. relief efforts.

"Our mandate is to save lives, alleviate suffering and reduce social and economic impact of a disaster," said Van Slate. "If you see one of us on the ground during a disaster, we are leading entities of the U.S. government; we are identifying needs by working with our humanitarian partners; and we are setting priorities for the U.S. government's assistance."

This year the HA/DR scenario includes a medical component designed to cross-train and share medical capabilities between military and civilian responders ashore and afloat.

"From a medical perspective, we have not in the past been involved in operational exercises on this scale," said Capt. Tim Hinman, C3F surgeon. "We have done a lot of tabletop training, but this is the first time we will train in a realistic, multinational effort in coordination with civilian and military medical facilities in Hawaii."

This is the first time in RIMPAC history the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) will participate in the exercise.

"Mercy is making use of all opportunities to train for the future," said Hinman. "The hospital ship will utilize their new small boat capability to transfer patients to the shore."

When called upon, Navy Medicine can bring vast capabilities and clinical expertise to a disaster relief effort.

"This HA/DR exercise provides the opportunity to focus on identifying Navy Medicine capabilities that are available and appropriate for filling the gaps in the civilian humanitarian response," said Capt. Colleen Gallagher, senior Navy representative to USAID. "It is the coordination and communication with organizations such as OCHA, USAID OFDA, as well as the host nation that are key to building success for a real disaster response."

Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel are participating in RIMPAC from June 26 - Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California. The world's largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans. RIMPAC 2014 is the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971.

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