Military rushed to Haiti without guns, ammo
Petty Officer Paul Spracklin is watched as he tends to a man with a foot injury at the hospital in Jacmel, Haiti Monday Janaury 18, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
Published Friday, July 9, 2010 1:26PM EDT
Members of Canada's disaster relief team deployed to earthquake-ravaged Haiti without proper gear and training, while confusion and conflicting priorities allowed reporters to board military flights into the country ahead of critical medical aid, according to a post-mission report.
The pace of getting into the country was so rushed and managed by so many organizations in Canada that members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, landed without guns, ammunition and body armour.
The specialized, rapid response team lost control over what got flown into the tiny Caribbean nation last January, hampering the delivery of supplies needed to treat people injured in the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake.
"In many cases critical DART stores were bumped from flights altogether," the report says, obtained by The Canadian Press through the federal Access to Information Act.
"This had a detrimental effect to DART's ability to provide more complex medical care."
The team, a military quick-reaction force that provides humanitarian aid following natural disasters and other emergencies, also couldn't get security personnel into Haiti on one of the earliest flights because they were bumped to accommodate media.
"This had the potential to put Canadian civilian and military personnel at risk," the report says of the mission, dubbed Operation Hestia.
But it's not clear from the brief why the core group of military personnel that's supposed to be in a state of high readiness with equipment stored in a special "High Readiness Warehouse" didn't appear fully ready to deploy.
There were 54 waivers for training deficiencies that included first aid, physical fitness and weapons, meaning commanders accepted that some members didn't have required training before deployment.
Personnel were issued guns that they were not experienced nor confident in using, the document states.
A military spokesman said in an email that "overall, there was no effect on (the) operational success of Op Hestia" because of the training deficiencies.
The brief also says that a significant number were about to retire or deploy elsewhere, creating administrative headaches and affecting the mission's performance.
Equipment used to refrigerate perishable medicines was delayed because other, unnamed groups were prioritizing flight manifests.
Ottawa announced shortly after the magnitude 7.0-earthquake that the 230-person team would head to Haiti to provide primary medical, rebuilding, engineering and communications support.
A day after the earthquake, which killed 230,000 people and left another million homeless, a reconnaissance team travelled to the island to gather information on where DART was most needed.
But that information was not properly acted upon since priorities were changing constantly and conflicting because so many different groups were involved in the process in Canada, according to the debrief.
Priorities were set "without respecting the information being reported from theatre," the document says. "Recce Team recommendations must be taken seriously prior to deploying additional forces in the manner that they were for Op Hestia."
The document also suggests that the political imperative of appearing to be engaged in the massive humanitarian effort to clear rubble, treat the injured and provide shelter and food bungled certain responses.
"The push to deploy rapidly may have satisfied the strategic objective of appearance that Canada was doing something," the document says. "However, it adversely affected the operational objective of providing rapid and effective humanitarian aid."
Most international agencies had trouble getting supplies in after airspace became so congested that incoming planes had to circle for hours before landing, and a shortage of police escorts meant medical supplies were held up at the airport.
Pallets of water and food sat idle on the tarmac for days as the capital of Port-au-Prince slipped out of control, leaving those in greatest need without help.
DART's first work involved medical technicians treating injured Canadians at the embassy in the city. But DART members focused on the smaller, southern city of Jacmel, up to half of which was destroyed.
Military crews removed rubble from streets, cleared the main road into Jacmel, set up latrines at camps for the displaced, built shelters for orphanages and provided security at food distribution sites.