Short After Action Review due to time-constraints...more to follow. I´m currently in Santo Domingo about to hop a flight back to DC.
For the last six days I was operating in refugee camps in the worst hit areas of Port au Prince. I was the Asst Team Leader for Team Rubicon, a team of former Marines, soldiers, firefighters, doctors, and nurses operating in the supposed ´denied areas´ of Port au Prince. We were - and the team continues to be - FIRST RESPONDERS to wounds now over ten days old.
First, please follow the Team Rubicon blog. There are some very candid assessments there. The situation is grim. Once again, we are witnessing the impotence of western power to deal with disasters/emergencies;for either out of lack of compassion, political correctness, or because the institutions set up to take care of emergencies are so overburdened with layers of bureaucracy that they are ineffective. When the Red Cross told our team not to deploy but to donate money to the Red Cross, we knew something was wrong. When we asked a Red Cross volunteer to start providing water/food to Hatians near our refugee camp, he said they weren´t organized to do so. But continue to give them your money anyways. Right. It appears to me that senior positions at large aid organizations are guaranteed by long drawn out solutions, incremental progress and maintaining the status quo.
Sensationalist journalism prevented aid from getting to Port au Prince. I saw one truck attacked by a hundred or so Hatians throwing rocks. It pulled off a side road and behind my taptap. I saw one food convoy mobbed outside our field hospital. However, I never saw a Haitian with a machete or a firearm that wasn´t in the military/police. There were no mobs of bandits, the media was wrong. But...if the world doesn´t get there fast, there will be. People get very desperate without food and water. I would too. But since bureaucratic institutions are reactive, not proactive (by their very nature), the irresponsible journalism and circular reporting of the traditional media made even the military scared to respond in a timely fashion. I was personally told by a friend of mine at SOUTHCOM to not deploy until the security situation improved. He´s a very good friend and good at his job, but couldn´t have been more wrong. He´s responsible for knowing the on-the-ground situation and he didn´t, because the information being sent to him was the same garbage being reported on TV. He told me I would get in the way of the military. So what should you do?
Follow Team Rubicon´s model. There are hundreds of thousands of Hatians without work but not without assets/skills to help in the rescue process. Hire them! Team Rubicon operated out of local taptaps, a jerry rigged pickup truck turned bus which you can find anywhere. Hatians that speak English and Spanish just as abundant. While other aid organizations waited for their vehicles/interpreters to arrive, we hired people off the streets and put them to work. Put one Marine/soldier in uniform with a group of doctors and nurses and send them into the refugee camps. We did it. And Team Rubicon continues to do it today. Everywhere you go people will approach you for food, water and jobs. If they get pushy, say you are ´Medi-seen´ which they will understand as doctors. In all situations, the Haitians immediately understood we were there to help and backed off. Hiring locals gets the local economy moving and reduces the chance of a security situation, as your local drivers/interpreters become dependent and loyal to the team, not to mention they are far more reliable than a GPS when it comes to lines of communication.
Self-deploy with a general plan but don´t worry about needing an OPORD. We went in with enough provisions to sustain ourselves for a week. If you fly to Santo Domingo you will find hundreds of people just like Team Rubicon trying to do the same thing. You can join a team there or put together your own. The point is, do it, because governments and international institutions are failing to do so themselves.
Immediately remove anyone in the military chain of command who becomes part of the problem, or move them off base and into town so they can learn the hard way. Readers of Team Rubicon blog are all aware of my run-in with a female major at the airport. Weight standards aside, she deserves no place in a relief effort of this size or the military. The problem is, the bureaucracy of the American military promotes those who promote the bureaucracy. If you challenge conventional wisdom, you will be considered a trouble maker. In my case, despite my exhaustive explanation, the major couldn´t understand why I would need medical supplies, and why I was wearing portions of my old Marine Corps uniform. Because first and foremost ma´am, they are NOT your supplies, they are mine, and because cammie trousers and boonie covers give me legitimacy and authority with the Haitan people, where there otherwise is none.
This is a disaster on a catastrophic scale, and it doesn´t have to be this bad. Hold your leaders responsible.
I will provide more later...have to catch a flight. Distro as you please.
Co-Founder and former Asst Team Leader