Helping out after Cyclone Pam
As part of a mission led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Headquarters Joint Operations Command (HQJOC) executed and coordinated a major humanitarian operation in Vanuatu in March and April 2015.
Days before the impact of the 14 March cyclone, HQJOC Domestic and Regional Operations Branch personnel were deep into the planning for an emerging humanitarian relief effort.
Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Mark McKenzie, who was part of a small planning group, said the planning effort brought together Defence and government stakeholders to prepare for a range of possible scenarios.
Looking back on the impact of Cyclone Pam, a category five storm, on Vanuatu and surrounding islands, Mark emphasised that an effective HQJOC response to any emergency or disaster required an early appreciation of the situation.
‘Deploying and coordinating any response effort is just one part of the puzzle. The Chief of Joint Operations relies on local ADF commands to provide the resources required for the initial response and then to identify potential commitment of non-local Defence assets’, Mark said.
‘Operation Pacific Assist came on the back of a busy three-month period that included coordination of support to bushfires in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, responding to cyclones Lam and Marcia in northern Australia and then the devastating earthquake in Nepal.
‘As the deputy lead planner, Domestic and Regional Operations, my role was to assist in the coordination efforts of all branches and enablers to HQJOC in the development of the concept of operations.
‘This included things like discussing the availability of assets within the Services, evaluation of possible response options, coordinating information through key staff and drafting of task orders.’
From 15 March through to mid-April, the ADF contributed to the whole-of-government response to assist more than 13,000 people with humanitarian relief.
More than 500 soldiers, sailors and aircrew deployed during Operation Pacific Assist, providing help across the archipelago and significantly assisting the recovery process.
ADF troops played a major part in the immediate relief effort, repairing key infrastructure, restoring basic services and delivering more than 115 tonnes of vital humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support throughout Vanuatu.
Through their efforts, access to clean water was restored, schools, community buildings and medical facilities were repaired, and remote communities had access to food and shelter.
ADF personnel also assisted in critical repairs to Port Vila Central Hospital, 27 schools, five clinics and 13 road and infrastructure sites.
‘Being a staff officer integrated with the Operations Staff at HQJOC has been an incredible professional experience’, Mark said.
‘It’s an amazing job when you consider we plan for just about every eventuality, but you’re always prepared for the unexpected to occur.’