Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti: UN must set up International Rescue agency

To develop the thinking on disaster response in Haiti: the present problem is that we have a bottleneck at the ports. The airport is stymied because it has run out of fuel to get planes out again, and its storage areas are saturated. The sea port is handicapped because the cranes are damaged.

It is easy to criticise the response to an emergency of this size, but it truly does not have to be like this. The delay in getting aid in is unacceptable.

The plan put forward to the UN a few years ago, for an International Rescue Task Force, (the title was consciously cribbed from Thunderbirds), with a chain of military based depots situated at strategic locations around the world, is worth more consideration. The depots would be on 24/7 standby, and a team of surveyors should be on site in disaster zones within hours of the event. They would have experience in organisation and would coordinate the efforts of the various aid agencies, who otherwise can duplicate efforts and get in each others' way.

Their first task would be to secure transport routes, to bring in fuel to the airport to get planes out again. They would identify and prepare storage areas, and facilitate the necessary burial procedures. That needs digging equipment. They would send teams to get the water supply network running again.

Digging people out from under buildings requires Infra Red living body detection items, and these should be made available on the first incoming flights. Heavy lifting equipment to lift collapsed buildings can only work if roads are clear, so bulldozers should come in before them.
Jacks and Acro props may be better for individual manual work earlier on in the rescue effort. It will be argued that attempts to rescue trapped people may result in more injuries from collapse, which is true, but this must be balanced by the overwhelming motivation of a father to rescue a trapped child.

At the same time as this centralised heavy duty stuff is running, community strength needs to be mobilised. After a disaster, people go into "shock", a derealised state - a kind of emotional numbing. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) sets in. Some are totally incapacitated by this state, but others with a milder case can be mobilised to help others worse off than themselves, which is in itself therapeutic.

There is much to be learned from the Haiti disaster, but the most important opportunity is to press the UN to set up a specialised agency to tackle future disasters more efficiently.


catmando said...

you speak the truth.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Catmando