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Military, civilian leaders assess, plan relief ops

by Tech. Sgt. Denise Johnson
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs

1/18/2010 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Base leaders met with civilian representatives Jan. 17 to assess current operations and plan for further support in response to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti Jan. 12.

The tri-service installation has been a departure point for military personnel providing in-country support and transport of FEMA supplies, as well as a receiving point for evacuees from Port-Au-Prince and the surrounding devastated areas.

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst commanders met with both state and regional representatives from the State Police Emergency Management Section, Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Red Cross and Salvation Army in the first of daily briefings until efforts begin to minimize.

"I'd like to begin the meeting by thanking each of you and your organizations for the overwhelming assistance and willingness to jump right in," said Col. Gina Gross, JB MDL commander. "Our job here is to take a look at what we've done, how we are doing and a way ahead."

Meeting members listened and watched during a briefing and slideshow outlining both manpower and evacuee statistics. To date, of the 579 evacuees JB MDL has processed, 549 have been outprocessed back to homes and families throughout the U.S.

"Not many places could have done what we've done. New Jersey has done a phenomenal job and you are all greatly appreciated," said Colonel Grosso. "Within 24 hours people had clothes, food, and showers while the majority were on their way to families or had plans in place ... we can't improve much on that."

The first evacuees arrived at JB MDL Friday. Military and civilian agencies had facilitated getting 85 percent of the 257 evacuees out to their homes and families by mid-day.

Almost 50 staff members are taking care of evacuees' needs at the McGuire Fitness Center where cots, showers and food are provided.

"The facility can handle the numbers we've been taking in at this point," said Col. Michael Carrell, 87th Mission Support Group commander. "If the numbers start increasing exponentially, we may have to look at things again, but at this time we're within our limits."

Televisions and toys are entertaining the evacuated children while the Red Cross, Salvation Army and others have provided winter clothes and other required items.

New Jersey's Southern Region Coordinator for the Salvation Army, Henry Wise, explained the addition of a Salvation Army Truck near the McGuire Main Gate to help facilitate the overwhelming response from the community to donate supplies. The organization is also purchasing more car seats for families with small children.

As the array of representatives gave individual briefings, Sergeant 1st Class Frank Klitchko, South Region assistant unit head of the N.J. State Police Emergency Management Section, gave a brief explanation of the organization's "ROC" - an operations intelligence center - which allows one phone call to instigate a series of notifications disseminating information to the people it needs to get to.

U.S. Navy Capt. Andrew Butterfield, deputy commander of the 87th Mission Support Group, reiterated how effective and established communication channels propelled the success of this operation.

"We had the right phone numbers and got the right people - so it went the way it was supposed to. We were able to do the job right," he said.

The attendees wrapped up the meeting as Colonel Grosso explained the need to move from surge into steady-state operations which would alleviate stress on manpower and establish standard operating procedures for the duration of the relief efforts.

"Our pre-established relationships have allowed us to ensure these people and this country is getting the best we could give them," said Colonel Grosso. "I'm not sure it could have been done this well anywhere else. We've got the rhythm down."

Both state and military representatives agreed the meeting was essential and successful for the evacuees and those still in the country. Though the ongoing efforts are critical, JB MDL Deputy Commander, U.S. Army Col. Joseph Poth, reminded everyone this is also the time to prepare for future humanitarian operations as well.

"It's imperative we document and continue to share information cross-organizationally - please forward us any lessons learned so we can make sure we continue to improve ... anything you can think of that will allow us to prepare ourselves for the future," Colonel Poth requested.

The relationship between the New Jersey-based military and their civilian counterparts was evident as both sides discussed successes, agreeing the path they had taken was an effective one for this operation. The group unanimously agreed to press forward with the current procedures and all expressed appreciation for one another's contributions.

Glen Karpovich, Regional Emergency Management specialist for the Department of Health and Human Services, thanked those at the table and JB MDL for the extraordinary accomplishments thus far, "I'd just like to take a moment to thank the whole base and the folks here for the way this operation has been run; you've done a great job."

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