CF brings humanitarian aid to Haiti

(Reprinted with permission from Military Matters, Vol. 1, No.1, 18 January 201o.

The Canadian Forces (CF) responded quickly to the disastrous earthquake that rocked Haiti and levelled Port-au-Prince. A Canadian Air Force CC-177 ‘Globemaster’ cargo aircraft departed the airbase at CFB Trenton at 2 a.m., 14 January to take the CF Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Haiti. In addition, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Athabaskan and Halifax departed Halifax for Haiti that same afternoon at 3 p.m. The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence and Rear-Admiral Paul Maddison, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic, were on-hand to give the ships and their 500 personnel a send-off.

When the CF deployed 2 Field Ambulance to Rwanda in 1994 to provide medical relief to the refugees, the relief effort arrived after the peak of a cholera epidemic. This convinced the Canadian government of the need to create a rapid-response humanitarian aid capability.  [The result of that decision was the DART.  Here is a description of the unit and its capabilities.]

The DART is a 200-member military organization designed to deploy rapidly anywhere in the world for up to 40 days to crises ranging from natural disasters to complex humanitarian emergencies. The DART:

  • responds rapidly, in conjunction with national and regional governments and non-governmental agencies, to stabilize the primary effects of an emergency or disaster;
  • provides purified drinking water and medical aid to help prevent the rapid onset of secondary effects of a disaster; and
  • gains time for the deployment of national and international humanitarian aid to facilitate long-term recovery in a disaster-stricken community.

The DART serves four critical needs in emergencies:

  • primary medical care;
  • production of safe drinking water;
  • a limited specialist engineer capability; and
  • a command and control structure that allows for effective communications between the DART, the host nation, and the other agencies involved in the relief effort, including international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and UN aid agencies.

The DART is composed of highly trained military personnel drawn mostly from Land Force (Army) units and comprises:

  • A Headquarters of about 45 personnel drawn mainly from the Canadian Forces Joint Headquarters and the Canadian Forces Joint Signal Regiment, both based in Kingston, Ontario. DART HQ is responsible for command and control in-theatre, and strategic-level liaison required to determine and co-ordinate the DART’s humanitarian response with the governments of Canada and the host nation, and officials of international organizations and non-government organizations operating in theatre.
  • A logistics platoon of about 20 personnel, responsible for the logistical support services to sustain the DART, such as maintenance, transport and movements control, supply,
    procurement and contracting, and food services.
  • The headquarters of the various DART sub-units deployed on the mission, each comprising about nine personnel, to coordinate on-site. These headquarters provide the day-to-day command and control of the following DART sub-units:
  • An engineer troop (37 personnel approx.), including both field and construction engineers. The field engineer element consists of a water supply section, a field engineer section and a heavy equipment section. The construction engineer element provides limited construction and utility services. The engineer troop produces bulk and bagged water from its Canadian-built Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), which can produce purified drinking water for use by medical services and for distribution to disaster victims.
  • A medical platoon (40 personnel approx) to provide support to area hospitals or to operate a small tented medical aid station, to provide care for up to 200 to 250 out-patients and 10 in-patients per day. The medical aid station includes a laboratory, a pharmacy, limited obstetrics services, and re-hydration and preventive medicine sections, but no surgical or trauma-care capabilities. The medical platoon provides treatment of minor injuries, disease control and routine health care services to relieve the host nation’s medical facilities of these responsibilities.
  • A defence and security platoon of about 45 personnel to provide camp security and general support for DART operations.