CFE Lessons Learned from Civ-Mil Response to Typhoon Haiyan

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The rapid response efforts with regard to Super
Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) have been widely acclaimed
and deemed successful by many observers and aid workers.
Many humanitarian and military leaders noted that
civil-military coordination during the Haiyan response
was some of the best they had seen. Yet, the effectiveness
of the coordination varied by location and method,
and much of the credit given to coordination was likely
due more to the fact that there was reduced “competition”
between the major responders because the actors
restricted their actions to their appropriate duties during
the response.
Several observations of previous complex disasters
resurfaced: during the initial days of response, the lack
of situational awareness and delayed implementation of
standard operating procedures and pre-planned responses
did not support the optimal use of resources,
particularly in terms of logistics; communication between
the military and the humanitarian community remained
a challenge; and the use of liaison officers to address some
of these gaps was not widely adopted or fully maximized
with the exception of some foreign military efforts in the
province of Capiz.
Additionally, information sharing never matured to a
more advanced stage due to resource limitations and the
rapidity with which the operations were completed. The
lack of a commonly accepted information-sharing platform
among all major actors continues to confront relief in emergency response. While information sharing
occurred in separate coordination mechanisms such as in
humanitarian mechanisms (e.g., cluster meetings, On Site
Operations Coordination Centers (OSOCC), donor briefings
and meetings), in affected state mechanisms (e.g.,
the government clusters and disaster risk reduction and
management councils) and between militaries (e.g., at the
Multinational Coordination Center) that were established
to support cooperation and coordination among the major
actors, there was a need to develop more operationally
synchronized efforts that bridged the gaps between
the government, humanitarians, and militaries. Planning
assumptions and products for a multinational relief effort
need to be reviewed for cases where the first line of defense—
affected-state responders—are themselves victims
of a disaster.
At the same time, key lessons learned from previous
disasters improved the speed and quality of overall
interagency coordination. Most notably, personnel with
previous disaster response experience who had personal
connections with other major players in the relief efforts
considerably expedited interagency and transnational
relief efforts. The informal professional networks among
relief workers built during common training and exercising
greatly facilitated the trust needed for effective and
efficient cooperation particularly early in the response
phase. Disaster preparedness efforts of the Philippine
government such as evacuation of citizens from the most
dangerous areas and the prepositioning of goods saved
many lives and mitigated the impact of the storm.
Finally, some of the more notable characteristics of the
Haiyan relief efforts include the remarkable resilience of
the Filipino people. Despite the magnitude of the damage
and its wide reach across multiple islands, recovery began
two weeks after Haiyan’s first landfall, occurring simultaneously
with ongoing relief efforts. Contributing to
this national resilience is the emergence of local informal
networks and kinship systems that augmented the relief
efforts of established institutional response mechanisms.
New technologies such as social media enabled grassroots-
driven relief efforts, as well.
The commitment of assisting actors who came to the
aid of the Philippines clearly demonstrated the increasingly
globalized nature of disaster response. In coming
years, the challenge remains to find ways to increase
investment in disaster preparedness and to better integrate
and leverage local capabilities and capacities with
international response.