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United States mounts coordinated response effort in typhoon's wake.

By Bettina Malone, public affairs officer, U.S. Embassy in Manila

Super Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines on Nov. 8, killing more than 6,000 people and negatively affecting 16 million more, including 7,000 who are still missing. It demolished infrastructure across the central Philippine islands and destroyed nearly 90 percent of homes in Tacloban, the affected area's largest city (population 220,000).

In the disaster's wake, the United States was one of the first countries to lend aid to the Government of the Philippines (GPH). The U.S. Embassy in Manila coordinated the efforts of nearly all of the 20-plus federal agencies and sections in Manila, gaining immediate contributions from the departments of State and Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Thousands of U.S. citizens were in areas affected by the typhoon, and assisting them was central to U.S. efforts.

As dire predictions of the storm's size and power appeared in weather reports, USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the Philippines. In the 48 hours prior to the storm's landfall, members of Embassy Manila's Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) coordinated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the U.S. Pacific Command to create a plan, should the military's humanitarian assistance or disaster relief be necessary. On Nov. 7, Embassy Manila broadcast an emergency message to U.S. citizens advising them to take all necessary precautions.

The day after the typhoon hit, Charge d'Affaires Brian L. Goldbeck responded to a GPH request for help by authorizing U.S. disaster-relief assistance through USAID/OFDA. In fact, just two hours after the storm's end, Col. Mike Wylie and Maj. George Apalisok of JUSMAG landed at the typhoon-ravaged Tacloban airport. The next day, they met there with Ben Hemingway of USAID/OFDA, who'd taken a boat all the way from Cebu. The three were the first U.S. responders on the scene, and their close coordination enabled the first deliveries of U.S. and international aid that helped save hundreds of lives and met the needs of hundreds of thousands of survivors.

Back in Washington, D.C., the State Department established a task force and USAID activated a Response Management Team to complement daily coordination meetings at the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Twice a day, U.S. civilian and military teams working on the response exchanged information, reported on activities and planned the next few critical hours, ensuring Washington and the White House had the latest information. This coordination made the response more efficient and accelerated the international response.

U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific led the Department of Defense (DOD) support efforts, moving a forward command element from the 3d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (3d MEB) from Okinawa to Manila on Nov. 10 to support the U.S. response, conduct assessments and set up a staging area at Villamor Airbase in Manila. As DART's humanitarian assistance experts assessed the affected areas, the U.S. turned those assessments into action and airlifts.

On Nov. 11, 3d MEB's main body arrived and set up a 24-hour command center supported by four MV-22 Osprey aircraft, three C-130 cargo planes and 220 Marines and sailors.

JUSMAG personnel deployed to Tacloban on Nov. 9 camped out at the airfield for nearly two weeks following the storm, helping the GPH and AFP reopen the airport and coordinate the transport of relief supplies. Marines cleared storm debris from the runway, set up air and ground traffic control from the back of a Humvee and even installed floodlights, to enable night flights. JUSMAG also deployed a liaison officer to Cebu, another affected area, to help synchronize U.S. government and AFP efforts. As Cebu Airport became an important emergency response hub, that officer facilitated information sharing between the AFP and the Marines.

USAID/OFDA, meanwhile, helped meet the affected area's immense food and water needs almost immediately after the storm. It arranged for DOD's transport of prepositioned material, including enough plastic sheeting to protect 20,000 families and nearly 46,000 hygiene kits. Those materials, plus kitchen sets, sleeping mats, blankets, flashlights and high-energy biscuits, were distributed to approximately 75,000 people shortly after the storm, and sixty 2,000-liter tanks of water were placed at the locations where they were most needed.

USAID's Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP) aided the World Food Program's Emergency Operation by facilitating the immediate local purchase of 2,400 metric tons (MT) of rice and 40 MT of high-energy biscuits from Dubai. The Philippine government included the food in its first distribution of family food packs to affected populations in Tacloban on Nov. 13, just five days after the typhoon. USAID/FFP also arranged the immediate airlift of 55 MT of emergency food from Miami and loaded 1,020 MT of rice from a USAID warehouse in Sri Lanka onto a ship that arrived in Cebu on Dec. 3.

The typhoon knocked out power and much of Tacloban's municipal water system. To ensure the area had clean water, USAID/OFDA channeled funds through Oxfam and the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), and DOD transported a generator that restored the city's water supply.

USAID/OFDA worked with local officials to establish family registration, tracing and unification systems. After dropping off relief supplies, the U.S. military transported thousands of displaced people from the affected areas to Manila to seek medical care, escape the devastation and reunite with their loved ones.

As the international relief effort grew more complex, Lt. Gen. John E. Wissler, commander of III Marine Expeditionary Force, came to Manila with a 50-person command element to facilitate coordination. The USS George Washington carrier strike group, with its 6,000 sailors and more than 80 aircraft and 20 helicopters, also joined the effort, with the helicopters delivering assistance to areas still unreachable by land.

In less than two weeks, DOD transported more than 3.3 million pounds of emergency relief supplies and provided $5 million for logistical support to the United Nations. By the second week of November, approximately 50 U.S. military ships and aircraft were supporting the relief effort, and nearly 1,000 U.S. military personnel were deployed directly to disaster areas.

The embassy's public affairs section set up an interagency coordination team to deal with media interest and unify the U.S. government's message, and American Citizen Services (ACS) responded to calls from family members and friends trying to locate loved ones in the affected areas. Thousands of U.S. citizens live in the Visayas region, and the embassy eventually received more than 1,400 welfare and whereabouts inquiries. ACS sent teams of consular officers on one of the earliest U.S. military flights to Tacloban, where they assisted hundreds of U.S. citizens to obtain transport to Manila. They also helped U.S. citizens needing emergency medical evacuation or treatment, and offered loans to citizens who had lost everything in the storm, even helping some to return to the United States.

Over three weeks, ACS teams traveled also to Cebu, Leyte and Samar provinces, locating more than 350 U.S. citizens and helping consular officers from other embassies locate their missing citizens. ACS officers confirmed that seven U.S. citizens had perished in the storm, and provided all appropriate consular assistance to their families. A U.S. Navy aircraft flew a U.S. citizen and his family out of the remote village where they were stranded, and the ACS team and 3d MEB Marines worked together to airlift eight orphans to Manila. By the end of December, eight weeks after the storm, ACS had successfully located and confirmed the welfare and whereabouts of 1,426 U.S. citizens, with only nine U.S. citizens unaccounted for.

After nearly a month, the GPH and U.S. government jointly determined that U.S. military aid was no longer needed, and the typhoon response moved from the emergency-relief to the early-recovery stage.

By mid-December, the United States had committed more than $86.7 million to logistics, humanitarian coordination, emergency shelter, protection, food security, livelihoods, transitional shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene for typhoon-affected populations. At its peak, the U.S. military response included more than 13,400 military personnel, 66 aircraft and 12 naval vessels. In all, DOD delivered more than 4 million pounds of relief supplies and transported more than 21,000 people on more than 1,300 flights.

On Dec. 18, Secretary of State John Kerry visited the nation and announced an additional U.S. contribution of $25 million for typhoon victims. At the Tacloban airport, he stood alongside representatives from the GPH, USAID, DOD and the embassy to note the teamwork of the relief effort. "I can tell you unabashedly and with great pride, you have done incredible work here together," he said. "And all of that has been done in very close partnership with the Philippine government."

A "whole of government" approach, galvanized by the direct, coordinated efforts of thousands, plus the support of thousands more in, D.C., and elsewhere, made possible the U.S. government's disaster response.

The responders were impressed by those they helped. Capt. Eric Johnson, a military flight commander who provided medical care to survivors in Tacloban, recalled how he'd walked with a chaplain through some of the hardest-hit villages. "Listening to survivors' stories while simultaneously hearing the tap-tap-tap of hammers as people tried to rebuild their lives--it was remarkable," he said. "I am amazed by the optimism and resiliency of the Filipinos and impressed to see people who have lost so much still smile and press on in the face of adversity."
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Title Annotation:Disaster Relief
Author:Malone, Bettina
Publication:State Magazine
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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