March 7, 2016 | 0 comments

When the 2010 earthquake in Haiti proved too much for the United Nations’ humanitarian aid workers, the U.S. government took over, mounting a relief operation that was ultimately deemed fairly successful. But six years after that response, the federal government has yet to fully institutionalize the lessons it gleaned, or fund the capabilities that will allow it to handle the next mega disaster. As the scale of the devastation in Haiti came to light, the U.S. augmented its civil relief agencies with military forces. That operation — and the ones that followed in Nepal, the Philippines, West Africa, and Japan — taught the civilians that American troops could be of enormous use in such work. “There’s been quite a change over the last decade with respect to accepting the military’s role in responding to large-scale disasters,” said Mark Bartolini, a former head of USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, or OFDA. The groups also recognized the need to develop better, formal ways of working together, and so formalized the civil-military relationship in a June 2015 policy update.

“We have further elaborated a system for that structural relationship between USAID and DOD as the lead agency for responding to international disasters,” said Beth Cole, a former head of USAID’s Office of Civil-Military Cooperation. USAID officials are now tasked to different combatant commands, and can quickly respond in a crisis. Civilians and military officials also take part in more...

March 4, 2016 | 0 comments

The European Commission is set to adopt today (2 March) a new plan aimed at providing humanitarian assistance to refugees inside the European Union, according to a draft proposal seen by EurActiv Greece. The Commission will propose a regulation on the provision of emergency aid within the EU’s borders, breaking with normal rules, which restrict humanitarian aid to overseas countries only. The lack of cooperation among member states has prompted the executive to find creative ways of helping EU countries that are being severely hit by the refugee crisis. “For the first time we mobilise resources, legislation and money that will enable Europe to act and within the EU, not only in crises in the Third World,” Commission spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told a European Parliament gathering on 1 March :

The document obtained by EurActiv says it is necessary to develop an instrument with “a dedicated budget that allows the EU to provide financial support to humanitarian partners capable of rapidly implementing emergency actions in support of overwhelmed member states”. “The measures contained in the proposed regulation will aim to address the exceptional humanitarian challenges that have emerged from the ongoing migratory situation,” it reads.

Focus on Western Balkans...

March 3, 2016 | 0 comments

Officials at the March 2 Defense, Development and Diplomacy Summit, dubbed D3, cautioned the audience about the pace of technology development in government; and worried that budget constraints and the inability to more seriously tackle the climate change issue could affect the pace of that progress. "Investments in technology are much more in the commercial side vs. defense," Frank Kendall, the Defense Department's undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, said. "The amount of resources invested in new technology outside of the Department of Defense is huge." The State Department hosted the interagency event with DOD and the U.S. Agency for International Development taking an active role. "We need to break out the old patterns of the past," Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department's undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said during a panel discussion. She stressed the importance of leveraging technology, especially when it comes in her domain of arms control agreements. "We can't just throw up our hands in the arms control world and say we can't monitor these problems," she said. The day-long summit also featured presentations on a range of technology initiatives, including 3D construction printing at Afghanistan air bases for the military, sustainable microgrids, and an active-shooter protection system that would detect when shots are fired and signal responders. General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint...

March 1, 2016 | 0 comments

The last damaging earthquake in Washington struck 15 years ago, on Feb. 28, 2001. The next one is scheduled for June 7. The ground isn’t expected to actually shake this spring. But nearly 6,000 emergency and military personnel will pretend it is during a four-day exercise to test response to a seismic event that will dwarf the 2001 Nisqually quake: A Cascadia megaquake and tsunami. Called “Cascadia Rising,” the exercise will be the biggest ever conducted in the Pacific Northwest. Which is fitting, because a rupture on the offshore fault called the Cascadia Subduction Zone could be the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history. “It’s really going to require the entire nation to respond to an event like this,” said Kenneth Murphy, regional director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is coordinating the exercise. While the Nisqually earthquake measured magnitude 6.8, a Cascadia megaquake is likely to hit magnitude 9 — which is nearly 2,000 times more powerful. It will affect the entire West Coast from British Columbia to Northern California, including Seattle, Portland, Tacoma and Vancouver, B.C. The quake will be closely followed by tsunamis 30 feet high — or bigger — that will slam into oceanfront communities. The damage and casualty estimates in FEMA’s quake scenario are sobering:

• More than 10,000 fatalities, mostly due to the tsunami
• 30,000 injuries
• 7,000 highway bridges and 16,000 miles of highway with high to moderate levels of...

February 29, 2016 | 0 comments

Jeff Schweitzer was in Camp Shelby, Miss., days after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf coast in 2005. At the time he was an interoperability architect with the U.S. Army’s CIO/G-6 team, and was working to set up a communications hub at Camp Shelby to manage the emergency response. “We had 54 agencies that responded to that event—and it was obviously an utter disaster,” Schweitzer recalls. Now a chief innovation architect for Verizon, Schweitzer’s tackling the same sort of problem at the telecommunications giant: How to set up a pop-up communications network to quickly coordinate an emergency response effort, and how to do it while using the most modern tools the company has. That’s why Schweitzer returned to Camp Shelby last month to help Verizon complete a test of the newest device it plans to add to its response team—drones. When natural disasters strike, Verizon turns to the specialized workers of its Major Emergency Response Incident Teams. These are the people who head out in mobile command centers and satellite trucks to restore basic communications in the event tornadoes or hurricanes knock out power lines or destroy cell towers. Generally this is enough, but sometimes street signs are part of the carnage making it more challenging to navigate, or some disaster zones are so isolated it’s difficult to reach areas where help is needed the most. “How do you get people moving around when even the simple things we take for granted aren’t available...