March 16, 2005 —
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - U.S. Northern Command is closely analyzing the Southeast Asia tsunami clean-up efforts to ensure the command will be prepared should it be called on to mitigate such a devastating blow in its area of responsibility.
Two data collection specialists from USNORTHCOM returned to Colorado recently after spending a month helping the U.S. Pacific Command’s lessons-learned team gather vital information to assist in the relief efforts for the Dec. 26 tsunami which claimed more than 160,000 lives in 11 nations.
“We were there taking those lessons in to ensure we are prepared in case something this terrible happens in and around the United States,” said Gene Pino, USNORTHCOM director of training and exercises.
In addition to homeland defense, the command provides military assistance to civil authorities including consequence management operations. USNORTHCOM’s area of responsibility includes the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles. It also includes the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It is absolutely critical that we glean the knowledge (from the tsunami clean-up) and then incorporate it into our preparation and training,” Pino said. “We needed to get our guys looking at it from ‘our eyes’ and transposing the challenges USPACOM and the multinational civilian agencies were experiencing with a ‘what if this happened in our AOR?’ mentality.”
USNORTHCOM sent a lessons-learned subject matter expert and a team member from its surgeon general’s office to USPACOM headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, with a two-fold mission: help the shorthanded USPACOM lessons-learned team gather data, and then bring that information back to USNORTHCOM to help the command better prepare for future challenges.
“When a disaster of this magnitude strikes, we will only get one chance to react,” said Rick Hernandez, USNORTHCOM joint lessons-learned specialist. “Documenting and applying lessons learned on surviving and overcoming such a disaster is vital to our preparations.”
The opportunity to observe and document the USPACOM staff assessing, planning and successfully executing this massive humanitarian mission is invaluable, he said.
“Organizations globally will gain from this experience and lessons learned, particularly (USNORTHCOM) with its mission to provide military assistance to civil authorities and consequence management operations,” he explained. “From our vantage point, we see how all the staff fits into the overall relief plan, how they interact, and the level of effort required to make it all work.”
The USNORTHCOM staff will now analyze the lessons learned to determine the best course of action, which will ultimately be validated during a future exercise.
Pino said USNORTHCOM has honed its exercise focus within the continental United States and Canada, but has yet to truly focus on the rest of its area of responsibility.
“The reality of what we are really going to glean from (the tsunami) is the challenges of a combatant command dealing with the various nations within its AOR,” he said. “If you transpose that tsunami into the Caribbean we would have several nations (within our AOR) that would be significantly challenged, and we would have to consider those multinational relations and how we’d deal in supporting other nations in a major disaster.”