DART – Military Style Emergency Response
Jan 15, 2014

When the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) deployed to help the Philippines recover from Typhoon Haiyan, the Canadian Forces was able to call on 16 of its Filipino-Canadian members to join the effort. “That was an absolute bonus,” says Lieutenant-Colonel Walter Taylor, DART’s commanding officer and leader of the on-the-ground effort in the Philippines. By specifically requesting and incorporating CF members of Filipino descent “to fill roles of liaison officers in the various municipalities that were most affected on Panay Island,” explained Taylor, he was able to create a trusted “interface between us and the local governance in terms of their needs and setting the ground for our operations.”

Dec 2013 - DART members clear debris from under a bridge in Libacao, Phillipines, that was partially destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan.

In fact, LCol Taylor says, “Just by luck of the draw, there were already another four or five Canadians of Filipino origin who just happen to be members of the DART and deployed in positions not ­specific to being Filipino Canadians but obviously we were able to use their language and cultural skills to the benefit of the teams they were working with as well. It absolutely shows the value of multiculturalism.”

Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on 8 November 2013 and Canadian Forces members began arriving at the Canadian area of operations, at the north end of Panay Island, one week later. The typhoon killed 6,000 people, displaced another 700,000, and further disrupted the lives of millions as it triggered landslides and destroyed power sources.

The DART is structured to come in after first responders have dealt with the immediate emergency situations of a disaster. The 300-member unit then provides medical services and potable water, and can repair infrastructure.

Even though the DART arrived a week after the storm struck, and the Canadian area of operations was distant from the main hit of the typhoon, CF members still encountered some grim situations. “We didn’t have quite as graphic sorts of physical harm to human beings that those ­soldiers witnessed [the shocking images broadcast from the Tacloban area],” LCol Taylor acknowledges, “but certainly within the operating environment there were some disturbing situations, as you would expect in an environment after a disaster. If there wasn’t, we wouldn’t have gone, but the soldiers had received mental health preparedness briefings prior to departure, to orient them and prepare them to what they might expect and we will continue to do close mental health follow-ups with the soldiers coming back.”

Canadian Govt. Advisors, Serge Koskinen and Benoit Girouard, speak with a member of the humanitarian group  Save the Children while in San Dioniso, Philippines

Between the time the DART arrived and December 15, when it officially ceased operations, CF members purified nearly 500,000 litres of water, provided medical treatment to more than 6,000 Filipino patients and delivered almost 300,000 pounds of food and other humanitarian assistance. Soldiers cleared roads, fixed generators and carried out more than a dozen construction projects. The DART used light and heavy vehicles to support their work, including a heavy engineering support vehicle with palletized load system for heavy loads.

Logistics for the various equipment is a key task. “The DART has a warehouse in Trenton with a hangar door that opens right onto the airfield,” LCol Taylor notes. “All of the DART’s equipment is stored there, it makes the air movement just that much easier. Part of our team stays in Trenton until the last equipment is on the final plane, and they don’t deploy until they are sure the right stuff gets on the right planes, so that worked out quite well for us.” Aviation platforms are a different story of course – such as the three CH-146 Griffon helicopters sent to the Philippines for coordination and medical evacuation – these had to be called in from other units. “Obviously we can’t afford to have any number of helicopters sitting in a warehouse waiting for a DART mission because they are a much scarcer asset.”

Nov 2013 - Capt Ian Schoonbaert, a doctor with the DART medical platoon talks with a local man in Iloilo City, Philippines about health and medical assistance.

By the time the deployment ended, Canadian Forces had used a CC-150 Polaris and three of its four CC-177 Globemaster IIIs to move people and equipment to and from the Philippines, as well as a CC-144 Challenger ‘business’ jet. The Challenger was used first to move an Interdepartmental Strategic Support Team to the Philippines and stayed for coordination and reconnaissance.

Interestingly, none of Canada’s C-130 Hercules aircraft were sent to the Philippines. As LCol Taylor explains, early meetings of the various international assistance partners quickly showed that many C-130s were coming from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a number of Southeast Asian countries. “We got some preliminary commitments from some of the partners in terms of any fixed-wing tactical airlift [...] that they would be able to support us with, so we were able to focus on capabilities that were not being filled by other nations, such as ground-based aviation and our engineering and medical expertise.”

Dec 2013 - Capt Arleta Jurek from 2 Air Movements Squadron, Trenton, debriefs Corporal Catherine Simard about Departure Assistance Group proceedures in Iloilo City, Philippines.

The DART commanding officer notes that his unit must be selective about which equipment and commodities to bring from Canada. For instance, the DART will only rent or buy locally if that won’t detrimentally impact other actors in the relief effort. “We don’t want to fly fuel in from Canada, but we also don’t want to compete for fuel with the Red Cross or with Médecins Sans Frontières,” he explains.

Close integration with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was gained as the DART decided to operate an open Command and Control network that enabled it to share information as quickly as possible with its civilian partners, to identify capability gaps and ensure coordination. “We chose to actually co-locate our headquarters with them and with a number of the UN agencies and NGOs that were operating in the area.”

LCol Taylor is convinced that the importance of civil-military cooperation was validated once again during the Philippines deployment.

Richard Bray is the Senior Writer at FrontLine Defence Magazine.
© FrontLine 2014