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Sea can be avenue for response.

If the sea brings destruction, can it also bring relief?

Clinton Whitehurst emphatically answers yes.

The senior fellow of the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University became convinced following last year's devastating storms that maritime assets should play an active and preplanned role in hurricane recovery efforts.

After spending several months researching and authoring a report on the topic, Whitehurst invited several transportation and disaster response experts to Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 27 to begin exploring the concept.

"Relief supplies should come in not only from the landside by highway, rail or airlift, but also from the sea," he said. "Relief from the sea would become especially important if land or air access were denied in the aftermath of a hurricane."

Larry Lawrence represented the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command during the Hurricane Relief from the Sea conference.

Lawrence outlined various considerations that would be involved in loading and unloading a ship with relief supplies that range from food and water to emergency vehicles.

He pointed out that advance planning is necessary, both to get the cargo to a port and to stage it for effective loading.

"Last on, first off," Lawrence said. "The equipment that's loaded last on the ship should be the equipment that responders need to roll off the ship first."

The military's process for prepositioning combat equipment can serve as a pattern for disaster relief from the sea, said Jeff McMahon of the U.S. Maritime Administration.

However, he adds, it may be advantageous to go beyond the Department of Defense's "floating warehouse" concept.

"Ships can be modified to provide various capabilities, including water purification, ice making, power generation and fuel pumping," he said.

"Additional berthing and messing facilities can be added to accommodate responders or hurricane survivors, and the ship could also be fitted with a communications suite, media center, and a helicopter deck to become a mobile command post for emergency managers."

To demonstrate ship capabilities, MARAD officials led attendees on a tour of the Motor Vessel Cape Diamond on berth in Charleston.

The use of military ships following hurricanes is not without precedent. In 2005, 200 civilian emergency vehicles were loaded on board the motor vessels Cape Victory and Cape Vincent in Beaumont, Texas, to ride out Hurricane Rita.

Various other military vessels responded off the coast of Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, providing a range of support including berthing for relief workers, oil spill response, emergency medical assistance, and even kenneling for dogs and cats left stranded by the storm.

Although the conference focused on hurricane relief, Whitehurst points out that ships could respond to other types of disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks in the United States or possibly even in neighboring countries.

All attendees agreed that this opening dialog still leaves a lot of major questions unanswered, including optimum numbers and types of vessels, their configuration, the appropriate cargo mix, and who would own, manage and pay for the vessels and supplies.

"This is not a panacea and doesn't replace flying or trucking in relief supplies," McMahon said. "But this is a very good conversation, and it will open other conversations with people who can bring the resources to bear."

Whitehurst soon will publish the proceedings from the conference and plans to hold a second conference in the coming months to begin addressing some of the unanswered questions.

Michael Lowder from the Federal Emergency Management Agency was cautiously optimistic about the idea.

"I like the concept," he said. "I think it's certainly worth more investigation."

Whitehurst remains confident that his concept will one day become reality. He said he hopes to conduct a small-scale demonstration so that decision-makers will see that although the sea can bring destruction, it can also serve as a valuable and viable avenue for relief.

"I'm glad that the experts here are seeing the same problems and agreeing on the same concept," he said. "(Hurricane relief from the sea) just makes sense."

The Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts applied research and enhances civic awareness in public policy areas at the local, state, regional and national levels.

Story and photos by Patti Bielling, Command Affairs Specialist SDDC Headquarters Fort Eustis
COPYRIGHT 2006 U.S. Military Traffic Management Command
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Hurricane relief
Author:Bielling, Patti
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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