The United States is able to respond effectively to domestic emergencies at all levels of government. Washington needs to export those capabilities to improve governance and economics in Africa. The State Department, Defense Department, and USAID, along with other Federal and state departments and agencies and assorted nongovernmental organizations, often produce an incoherent foreign policy. The “National Response Platform” (NRP) and “National Response Force” (NRF) concepts allow a more focused whole-of-nation approach. African nations become markets for U.S. products and services as standards of living improve across the continent. Moreover, they become net contributors to global stability and economic growth. Innovative ideas combined with commitment to Africa points the way forward for continued U.S. economic, ethical, and moral preeminence
s currently structured, the international system for responding to natural disasters is neither as timely nor equitable as it could be. Funding is secured on a largely ad-hoc basis after disaster strikes.
—African Risk Capacity Response to the Cost-Benefit Analysis of the African Risk Capacity
Development gains in Africa suffer major setbacks when governments are unable to respond effectively to crises. To address this concern, the U.S. military conducts regular exercises with partner nations that provide valuable training for U.S. and partner nation forces, improve interoperability, provide valuable services to the local communities, and build mutual trust and goodwill among participants and between nations. Regrettably, the U.S. budget crisis caused the Navy to cancel Continuing Promise 2013, U.S. Southern Command’s biennial humanitarian assistance exercise. The irony in the name of this exercise—Promise—was likely not lost on the eight Caribbean and Latin American nations slated to participate. Will Africa Partnership Station exercises be canceled too?1 What do these cancelations say about the United States as a reliable partner in Africa, and what or who will fill the void?
While the U.S. Government cannot afford to continue to engage as it has, to return to a policy of isolationism would be catastrophic. To maintain global stability, improve governance and economic opportunity in Africa, and spur its own economic growth, the United States “[has] to think.” The Nation will reduce reliance on certain military capabilities and as a result will need to leverage civilian capabilities in unique and innovative ways. To that end, this article examines U.S. emergency response capability at all levels as a key strength of U.S. governance. The National Response Platform (NRP) and National Response Force (NRF) concepts are presented as means to “export” that strength to Africa. In addition these new tools of diplomacy will improve public-private partnerships to rebalance a whole-of-nation approach to stimulate economic growth and ensure long-term stability and security in Africa, the United States, and elsewhere.
The United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights includes “responsiveness to the needs of the people” among its five key attributes of “good governance.”2 Not surprisingly, the governments of many African nations lack the capacity to meet even the most basic human needs much less the advanced capabilities necessary to respond effectively in the wake of disaster. In contrast, the United States has robust emergency response capabilities at the local, state, and Federal levels. Moreover, an equally robust legal architecture provides for rapid and effective coordination between levels of government and between departments and agencies at each level. Therefore, in domestic emergencies the military plays an important but supporting role limited by the Posse Comitatus Act, other U.S. laws, and military regulation. In foreign disaster assistance, however, the military often plays a crucial and highly visible role.
President George W. Bush was praised for his resolute leadership in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The vast majority of responders at those sites were from the respective cities and states. While the President’s support was welcome, local and state officials led the response and recovery—the mayor, the governor, the police and fire chiefs, hospital administrators, religious leaders, and nearby charities. The Bush administration also received international accolades for its rapid and perhaps overwhelming response to the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, while only 8 months later, the administration was criticized for its response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where the city’s poorly maintained pumping system resulted in flooding and inadequate levees were breached by the tidal surge.
New Orleans was aware of the hurricane threat and had ample notice of Katrina’s approach but was still woefully unprepared. Public perceptions of the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina and to the 9/11 attack in New York City were radically different. Did the failure in Louisiana occur in Washington, or in New Orleans or Baton Rouge? Thankfully, the massive Federal response in New Orleans resulted in only 1,833 lives lost.3 That was tragic, but how many more would have died in similar circumstances in Africa? What would have been the consequences for governments able to provide only a limited response, a biased response, or no response at all? The solutions start at the local level.
It is said that “Every disaster is a local disaster [because] it is at the local level that the greatest challenges are faced and the toughest decisions are made.”4 That may be true, but in the aftermath of Katrina, it was the Federal Government, specifically the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that was most severely criticized. Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, FEMA had transitioned from an independent Federal agency to falling under the authority and direction of the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). After Katrina, cooperation between the states, among the local, state, and Federal levels of government, and between the many departments and agencies at each level of government improved dramatically, leveraging preexisting frameworks.
Established in 1996, the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is an agreement by 54 states and territories to offer mutual assistance during governor-declared states of emergency. 5 EMAC allows states to send personnel, equipment, and commodities across state lines with credentials, licenses, and certifications honored in the supported state. EMAC also clarifies issues of liability and reimbursement. 6 Additionally, most sizable communities and all states have a designated Emergency Management department or agency. These local and state offices follow the guidelines established by DHS/FEMA in the National Incident Management System, National Response Framework, and the Incident Command System.
Indeed, there has been tremendous Federal investment in building local and state capabilities to ensure that, to the fullest extent possible, “local disasters” can be managed at the local level. When local capacities are overwhelmed or a unique capability is required, local authorities request assistance from the state. If the state is unable to meet the requirements of the local authorities in responding to a specific emergency, the governor of the state seeks the assistance of the Federal Government by making an official request, in writing, to the President.
The President might then make an Emergency or Major Disaster declaration and designate DHS/FEMA as the lead Federal agency for the response with other departments and agencies directed to support. This was the case in the Katrina response when FEMA assigned the Department of Defense (DOD) a mission for “full logistics support” at a cost FEMA estimated would be $1 billion. 7 Despite how it may have appeared in the media to outside observers, FEMA was in charge and the military had a supporting role. As a lesson learned, however, military officers and senior enlisted personnel now undergo extensive Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) training wherein they learn the importance of deferring media inquiries to public officials to avoid even the appearance of loss of civilian control and to facilitate the military’s earliest possible withdrawal.
FEMA in turn recognized that it had to develop its own logistics capabilities relying on civilian government agencies and the private sector. As a result, the agency greatly increased the number and capacity of its warehouses and distribution centers. It also established retainer contracts with multiple transportation providers such as short- and long-haul trucks, buses, ambulances, passenger and cargo trains, and airlines. These providers agree to make assets available for hire under contract if a disaster is declared and FEMA or a subordinate agency identifies a requirement. This civilian-based response architecture promotes entrepreneurship, small businesses, and an increased capacity at the lowest possible level of government—a multilayered civilian approach to emergency response much needed in Africa.
Many recent changes within FEMA are a consequence of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006, Title VI of P.L. 109-295 (H.R. 5441).8 In conjunction with the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act), the Post-Katrina Act authorizes and funds FEMA to “lean forward” and position assetsin anticipation of state requirements. As a result, the response to Hurricane Ike in 2008 was dramatically different.
As Ike advanced and its intensity and location of landfall were known to a reasonable degree of certainty, hundreds of trucks were put under contract. They were loaded at FEMA distribution centers and deployed to predetermined parking areas in an arc around the anticipated area of impact. Other assets were made ready at Federal airfields, typically on DOD installations, to be flown in by commercial or military airlift. As another lesson learned from Katrina, it was anticipated that rotary airlift would be in high demand in the first days of the response.
Two days prior to landfall, FEMA tasked DOD to operate USS Nassau (LHA 4) off Galveston Island for 17 days at a cost of $20 million—or a daily operating cost of $1.2 million.9 In addition to helicopter support, USS Nassau utilized landing craft to transport vehicles and heavy equipment—Humvees, backhoes, and front-end loaders—and about a thousand Sailors and Marines to support debris clearance and other requirements.10 USS Nassau had been specially outfitted prior to her departure from her home port in Norfolk. Still, due to configuration as a naval combatant, the ship carried relatively little of the supplies and equipment needed for a disaster of this type and magnitude. Accordingly its overall contributions were limited, particularly given the costs.
The tremendous cost of using naval combatants in disaster response must be taken into consideration with the frequency, intensity, and predictability of disasters that come from the sea. Further, populations living on or near the coast are growing globally to say nothing of the unique challenges of responding to island disasters. For example, FEMA’s response to the tsunamis that struck American Samoa in September 2009 exemplifies the problems of relying on airlift. These include the enormous cost of air transportation, aircraft availability, cargo volume and weight limitations, airfield congestion, and fuel consumption rates. In the likely event that aircraft fuel is limited or not available at the disaster site, aircraft cargo capacity is further limited by the necessity to carry sufficient fuel for the return flight. Otherwise, military aircraft with aerial refueling capacity are required.
In the American Samoa tsunami response, U.S. military C-17 aircraft delivered 667.5 tons of supplies in 10 days from Hawaii to American Samoa, a straight-line distance of 2,560 miles. The cost was $2.35 million, which translates to $235,000 per day, or $3,521 per ton.11 For comparison, 667.5 tons would fill 28 standard 20-foot ocean shipping containers.12 That is less than 1 percent of the “average” merchant container ship capacity of 3,000 to 7,000 containers. Steaming at 15 knots, a merchant ship could have delivered tens of thousands of tons of disaster relief supplies and equipment in just 6 days. If the ship was carrying only those 28 containers, the cost would still have been only about $120,000—around $20,000 per day or $180 per ton—a savings of over $2 million, or more than $3,000 per ton.
Similarly, in response to the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010, there was again tremendous reliance on airlift. A great number of naval combatants from the United States and other nations responded as well. However, many nations including America also sent merchant ships that carried vastly more supplies and equipment than responding aircraft and, as discussed in the previous case, were far more economical. Because the seaport at Port-au-Prince had been rendered inoperable by the earthquake, several vessels used onboard cranes, barges, and other small craft to discharge cargo from sea to multiple points ashore. Some ships also provided substantial sustainment for responders and survivors.13 As impressive as the global response to Haiti’s earthquake may have been, it was nonetheless ad hoc and expensive, and resulted in questionable long-term success.
In view of these recent cases, discussions at various levels of the U.S. Government and the private sector have generated many concepts for a capability to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of disaster response “from the sea.” One such concept, National Response Platforms, is modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps Maritime Prepositioning Force program wherein a number of specially constructed ships are strategically located and loaded with the supplies and equipment necessary for the Marines to respond rapidly to any number of national security contingencies.
Put simply, the NRPs are “floating warehouses”: U.S.-flag merchant cargo ships manned by U.S. merchant mariners and loaded with U.S.-manufactured disaster response supplies and equipment. They are able to self-offload in port or at sea, support helicopter operations, and provide additional communications, berthing, and messing capacity. NRPs would be located near areas prone to or threatened by disaster: the Gulf Coast during hurricane season, Presidential inaugurations, meetings of global leaders, or humanitarian crises. They might eventually be purpose-built ships, but there are numerous vessels owned by the U.S. Government or available on the global market that could suffice as interim platforms for proof of concept.14 Still, obtaining the ships is perhaps the easier problem to solve.
The more challenging issues are likely to be getting the money for operation and maintenance of the ships, the supplies and equipment to make up the cargo, and the manpower to operate the ships and to load, unload, and employ the cargo. Limited Federal funds currently allocated to strategic assets and engagements could be supplemented by contributions from corporate and private donors. The cargo likewise might include government items but would ideally be made up primarily of items contributed by private and corporate entities to include nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Creating these public-private partnerships would be no small feat and would directly challenge existing paradigms. Any necessary legislation would be equally complex, if not more so, as it would cross into foreign affairs, homeland security, and defense. Still, some might argue that organizing the people would be the greatest challenge. The NRP concept provides one possible solution.
There are about 1.5 million NGOs operating in the United States.15 Roughly 64.5 million citizens volunteered at least once in 2012.16 Americans donated $298.42 billion to charity in 2011.17 As DOD budget constraints necessitate reductions in military force structure, tens of thousands of veterans—disciplined, dedicated, and highly skilled in expeditionary operations—will be entering the civilian workforce. These facts notwithstanding, it seems very unlikely that the American public would support the creation of a new national force to respond to problems in Africa or elsewhere overseas with so many problems at home such as crime, poverty, access to health care, education, and infrastructure.
The NRF concept proposes a civilian reserve force that would focus on ongoing domestic issues but would also be utilized for foreign planned engagements and disaster response. Teams would be made up of professionals from the public and private sectors that might include current and past mayors, city council members, police and fire chiefs and their administrative staffs, hospital, school, and court administrators, small business and franchise owners, and countless volunteer organizations. Teams would include doctors, nurses, lawyers, policemen, firefighters, construction workers, teachers, clerks, and others. NRF teams would be based in major U.S. cities with a core cadre of foreign service, emergency management, and military veterans that would coordinate and lead these local professionals.
One possible framework for resourcing NRF teams requires partnerships, cooperation, and cost-sharing among the levels of government. To retain NRFs as a Federal asset through DHS, the Federal Government could pay wages and the cost of interstate and international travel. State governments could provide housing and intrastate and local transportation. Local governments could provide health care and the supplies and equipment needed to conduct the necessary work on local projects.
Modeled on the military’s Reserve force structure, NRF teams would be in an Active, standby, or Reserve status. Indeed, DOD experience and infrastructure could be leveraged in standing up this civilian capability. NRF team core cadres would facilitate training specific to interstate or foreign deployment in coordination with the appropriate local, state, and Federal departments and agencies. Training in a specific skill or trade would not be required because team members would be recruited specifically for already having the required skills.
NRF teams would perform Active service in a domestic problem area identified by DHS in coordination with the states. Other teams would support planned foreign engagements facilitated by interagency agreement with the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In either case, due consideration would be given to the length of these assignments to balance costs in terms of travel and the requirement for more team members against the stress on team members and their families, communities, and civilian employers. Finally, other teams in their year of Active service might be held in “Reserve” to respond rapidly to domestic or foreign crises.
While Africa’s future is indeed uncertain, its people can be assured of some things. There will be times of instability. There will be natural disasters, some minor and easily manageable and others catastrophic. There will be manmade disasters, some caused by accident and others by intent. Kenya’s National Disaster Response Plan (2009) recognizes a number of risks common to African nations to include “drought, famine, food insecurity, floods, epidemics, landslides, sea waves, tsunamis and technological hazards, deforestation, desertification, transport accidents, conflicts, pollution, structural failure, terrorism, fires, and others.”18 NRP and NRF teams, through planned engagement and in responding to crises, will help African nations build up their own strong civilian institutions to ensure continued good governance during peaceful times and in crisis.
Some have argued that the United States should assist African governments in increasing civilian skills for their military officers and senior enlisted so each country’s military can resolve infrastructure, development, and stability crises.19 While this might improve response capacity at the national level in the short term, it is not the right answer. It deprives the larger population of economic opportunity and eliminates future employment options for military members transitioning out of the military into civilian life. It also denies local leaders the capabilities necessary to respond to their own emergencies and could thereby undermine the authority of civilians at all levels of government.
Others might say the NRP and NRF concepts are too complex or even naïve to be executed. Given the current dysfunction of the U.S. Congress, that may well be true. Still others might offer that private entities such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, or similar philanthropic organizations would be more successful in distilling the vision and putting together the relevant stakeholders to pull off a project of this scale. This may also be true. But the result would increase capability in NGOs that by definition cannot be directed by the U.S. Government to achieve national security objectives. Consequently, U.S. foreign engagement would continue to be haphazard and would further undermine confidence in the U.S. Government.
Many benefits can be derived from the NRP and NRF concepts. First, media images of American citizens helping African citizens in this way provide good press for the United States and restore confidence in America’s ability to lead. NRP and NRF teams would reduce reliance on U.S. military forces and capabilities and would fill the voids left as a result of military budget constraints. NRPs could create or sustain thousands of American jobs in manufacturing and transportation and might also provide overseas business opportunities for U.S. manufacturers. Importantly, NRPs could “shore up” the American merchant marine, shipbuilding, ocean shipping infrastructure, and other national strategic capabilities that are so vital to a maritime nation.
Likewise, NRFs would reduce misperceptions about U.S. forces being employed in sovereign countries or U.S. naval combatants “lurking” offshore. In Africa, where so many nations have extensive experience with coup d’états and military-backed dictatorships, NRFs might serve to strengthen public confidence in civilian institutions. As African governments build emergency response capabilities at the local, state, and national levels, they improve their responsiveness to their people’s needs. Political stability ensues followed by economic investment, economic growth, and improvements to infrastructure, healthcare systems, education, etc.
A hypothetical scenario describes how African nations would benefit from the NRP and NRF concepts. At some future point, NRPs are located here at home and around the world. NRPs in U.S. ports fall under the authority of DHS/FEMA. NRPs in foreign ports come under the authority of State/USAID. All NRPs are loaded with the supplies and equipment primarily intended for State/USAID-led planned engagements but equally useful for humanitarian assistance, disaster response, and civil support operations, to include theater-opening capabilities should normal sea- and airports prove inadequate, not available, or nonexistent. Increased reliance on commercial air carriers to transport NRF teams has allowed U.S. carriers to increase commercial aircraft capabilities, perhaps to include aerial refueling, and to expand business domestically and abroad.
In this near-future world scenario, two NRPs are in the Africa region. Each is operated by a U.S. shipping company under contract to the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (DOT/MARAD), Department of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, or perhaps even American Red Cross. A standby ship is in Monrovia, Liberia, supporting routine partnership engagements and training. The second NRP is on a State/USAID–planned development engagement in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
This hypothetical scenario continues with a pipeline explosion in Lagos, Nigeria.20 Hundreds are killed and thousands are injured. Many more are displaced or otherwise affected. There is widespread social unrest. The government has insufficient resources to adequately respond to the crisis and requests international assistance. The UN requests that the United States employs the Standby NRP and the ship departs Monrovia for Lagos. NRF standby forces depart from the United States. In addition, State and USAID surge select personnel from Tanzania.
State, USAID, and NRF personnel respond to the crisis in support of the Nigerian government and in coordination with the UN and other contributing nations. U.S. military forces are not required because providing civilian capabilities to support the disaster response has freed up sufficient Nigerian forces to maintain security. However, neighboring militaries are put on alert. If additional forces are required over the next several weeks, they will be provided by African nations under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union, or the United Nations.
As our fictional crisis moves from response to recovery, NRF teams return to the United States. Personnel from State and USAID continue to assist Nigerians with long-term recovery. NRPs return to the United States for maintenance, repairs, and reload, but the supplies and equipment it delivered remain in Nigeria. U.S. private-sector partners engage with Nigerians on training, maintenance, future sales, and possibly future manufacturing contracts to enable Nigerians to respond more effectively to disasters in their country and throughout the region.
The United States has remarkable capabilities at all levels of government to respond effectively to domestic emergencies. To improve governance and economics in Africa, Washington needs to “export” those capabilities. The Department of State, DOD, USAID, various other Federal and state departments and agencies, and multitudes of NGOs often present a disjointed U.S. foreign policy. The NRP and NRF concepts provide an opportunity to coordinate these efforts into a more focused whole-of-nation approach. As standards of living improve across Africa, its nations become thriving markets for U.S. products and services. Moreover, African nations become net contributors to global stability and economic growth. As they have throughout the history of this great nation, unique and innovative ideas combined with Americans’ determination will secure the U.S. position as the economic, ethical, and moral leader of the world. JFQ