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American Forces Press Service

USAID, Pacom Assist Earthquake Relief in Nepal

By Amaani Lyle
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii, May 12, 2015 – As Nepal grapples with the impact of the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck April 25, the U.S. Agency for International Development is working with multiple organizations -- including U.S. Pacific Command -- and nations from around the world to bring relief.

The Nepal earthquake has claimed at least 8,000 lives, caused more than 16,000 injuries and left thousands more missing, according to news reports.

Coordination between USAID's Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and Pacom helps bring relief to people simply trying to survive in the wake of a natural disaster, USAID/OFDA humanitarian advisor to Pacom Thomas Frey said in a recent interview.

'Ring of Fire' Region

"Pacific Command sits in the 'Ring of Fire' [volcanic region, with] earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, cyclones -- those sorts of disasters which occur throughout this area of responsibility," Frey said.

But, he asserts, USAID's greatest buffer against these seemingly apocalyptic threats is preparedness, presence, and the ability to leverage Pacom's unique capabilities during a response.

USAID's Relationship With Pacific Command

"As the lead US Government agency for coordinating foreign disaster relief, USAID/OFDA has a strong relationship with Pacific Command, and we have staff permanently stationed at Pacom to work with the command staff to plan for these events so that when a real event occurs, we're there -- as part of Pacom's planning and execution process," Frey said.

According to Frey, USAID/OFDA has its own capabilities to draw on initially to respond to disasters. One of those capabilities is a Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, a forward-deployable resource that coordinates and manages the U.S. government's response in the country affected by a disaster.

USAID/OFDA has a DART on the ground in Nepal with about 125 staff, including two urban and search and rescue teams -- one from Los Angeles County and another from Fairfax County, Virginia. DoD transported the teams from the U.S. to Nepal and they are critical in rescuing people from collapsed structures, a USAID official said.

Frey said the DART has been assisting with rescue and relief operations in Nepal's capital of Kathmandu and beyond. "A heartwarming success was our urban search-and-rescue teams rescuing a 15-year-old boy in Kathmandu a few days ago; that was a positive thing amidst all the sadness" he said.

Other DART personnel work with the U.S. ambassador and the international humanitarian community and coordinate with Pacom's Joint Task Force 505.

Pacific Command-sourced Assistance

Rescue and relief operations are where Pacom's unique resources, especially U.S. Marine Corps helicopters, play a key role in getting out to remote locations and providing assistance that is not yet available through the normal humanitarian relief community, Frey said. "We're using that capability as part of the overall unity of effort in Nepal."

He added, "In a larger framework, the unity of effort between the Pacific Command, USAID/OFDA staff at Pacom and the DART on the ground [shows] that they've been able to begin reach out to the Nepalese people who have been affected by this disaster."

Working With U.S. Military, International Partners

In Nepal, USAID/OFDA is collaborating with Pacom's deployed staff as well as international partners, Frey said.

"A lot of countries have come in to assist with this [and] a lot of foreign militaries besides the U.S.," he said. "It takes coordination and collaboration on the ground [and] working in support of the Nepalese government so we can work together to allocate resources to the most needy areas."

Pacific Command is helping to deliver relief supplies into Nepal as well as coordinating and improving the movement of resources across the country, Frey said.

"There's always confusion initially but things are improving and people understand now how to better coordinate in a unified way," Frey said. "We know, unfortunately, that these disasters are going to occur again and we want to be ready."

He added, "Our presence and our ability to work with the command has been excellent in the past and we hope for that in the future as well."

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