Providing Relief by Planning Ahead
NAVFAC Southeast is helping plan and develop local infrastructure across Haiti to facilitate rapid internal response to large-scale catastrophic emergencies.
By Cdr. Jeanine M. Avant, P.E., CEC, M.SAME, USN, and Cdr. Dewayne E. Roby, P.E., CEC, USNR
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010 ravaged infrastructure throughout the country. Photos courtesy of NAVFAC
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake that sent devastating shock-waves through one-third of Haiti’s landmass in January 2010, crumbled large portions of the nation’s infrastructure and housing into ruins; killed or seriously injured several hundred thousand people; and left more than 1 million destitute. Devastation was so widespread and near all encompassing of roads, seaports, airports, utilities and communications systems, that any semblance of timely delivery of aid by the international community was blocked—in spite of the highly-capable, rapid-response resources launched in the hours and days following the quake.
The ensuing days, and even weeks, of delay in the arrival of adequate aid compounded the suffering and loss of life among the initial survivors. It would get worse before it got better. In the months following, winds and torrential rains of Hurricane Tomas (October 2010) wreaked additional havoc on the temporary tent-city shelters that housed the homeless. This exacerbated the difficulty for workers engaged in clearing debris and repairing infrastructure.
Such natural disasters, though not new to Haiti, revealed major shortcomings in international aid emergency-response capabilities to effectively contain such a crisis. It precipitated a serious commitment on the part of the U.S. government to put in place a means to mitigate the human suffering effects in the event of future recurrence.
The recurrence of the precipitating natural hazards, earthquakes and hurricanes are expected to be ongoing in Haiti due to its geographic location. Two major faults dividing the earth’s tectonic plates slice through Hispaniola. The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault and the Septentrional-Oriente fault bound the Gonave Microplate that is sandwiched between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Inter-plate drift places Haiti in an immense pressure point; therefore, it is inherently susceptible to high-magnitude earthquakes.
Additionally, Haiti’s location in the Atlantic Basin hurricane track makes it inherently susceptible to major hurricanes (Category 3 or above: Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale: Major Hurricane = Category 3 or stronger [sustained winds of 111-130 mph]).
Project Definition and Acquisition Planning
Seeking to ensure preparedness and efficient response in the event of future natural disasters in Haiti has led to a wide range of approaches being assessed, spanning from long-term development of comprehensive capabilities to quick-reaction development of focused capabilities. The capabilities and resources of the current Haitian national government preclude its ability to preposition adequate response and relief resources on a central government level. The required scope of such a comprehensive approach is currently viewed impractical in the Haitian governmental, social and economic environments. At the present time, this approach would be subject to too many variables: adequate planning, distribution, funding, maintenance, recurrent socio-political instability and lack of expertise, and, unnecessary, in view of the flexible, scalable U.S. response near at hand (if and when needed).
A focused, first-response capability pre-distributed to the local level, however, was deemed to be pragmatic, highly-efficient and achievable. Such an approach responds well to lessons learned in the 2010 Haitian crisis by providing a bridging capability to mitigate the suffering in the gap between onset-of-disaster and arrival of full-scale aid. This approach required only a relatively short time to plan and develop. And it allows the facilities to come on line in a timely response to the ongoing potential of future natural hazards.
Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s (NAVFAC’s) engineering-management expertise in planning, acquisition (via contracting in foreign countries), and rapid development of similar military projects of enabled the quick reaction needed to execute the objective. The plan called for:
- NAVFAC Southeast to develop the statement of work and issue solicitations for design-build proposals;
- a forward-deployed NAVFAC Resident Officer in Charge of Construction (ROICC) team to administer the contracts and ensure facilities were built in accordance with approved plans and specifications; and
- coordination with the Haitian government to directly acquire required real estate—facilitating the humanitarian aid project’s role as a Haitian national asset.
The project scope was designed so contractors were readily available to provide the type of expertise to execute construction of the facilities—but with sizable portions of the work performed by the Haitian labor force, thereby contributing to the local economy and providing much needed jobs. Also, it was essential that the end-to-end cost be firmly estimated and affordable so as to quickly gain funding. Upon completion, the national scale capability was to be suitable to ongoing operation and maintenance by the Haitian government without a standing U.S. presence.
Project Funding and Development
Rapid progress is underway towards developing the widely distributed, but integrated, in-situ first-response emergency preparedness to Haiti in terms of infrastructure, required supplies and trained emergency responders. The construction of the facilities is funded by the Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster and Civic Aid (OHDACA) appropriation, managed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) is leading the U.S. role in these Humanitarian Assistance Program projects and has engaged NAVFAC to apply its proven expertise in rapidly developing related infrastructure in remote underdeveloped nations to plan and manage the implementation.
In the relatively short time since Haiti has been stabilized and working access has been gained to the various regions of Haiti (including urban ruins and remote agrarian), the initiative is now solidly underway. System requirements are defined, funding is in place, and plans and specifications are developed. The Haitian government’s acquisition of real estate is complete and construction resources are identified with all contracts awarded. Meaningful construction progress has been made in Port-au-Prince (near the epicenter of the quake), Gonaives, Les Cayes, Cap Haitien, Jeremie and in multiple locations of the rugged and remote Departments of rural Haiti.
Among the major contributing factors to the rapid planning and onset of development of the Haitian emergency response system was that its limited scope allowed implementation requirements to be met by well-established and
accepted “strong” standards for building construction and the availability of pre-engineered building kits. Albeit the Haitian climate (humidity cycling) and lack of civil emergency infrastructure (fire fighting) imposes a need for particularly rugged construction, the dominant requirements are set by the need to endure stresses due to seismic-vibration and wind force.
Table 1 outlines some examples of the general factors required to be assessed in planning each of the Humanitarian Assistance Program projects listed in Table 2. Requirements addressing Table 1 were established uniformly across all projects.
Because of the drift rates of the earth’s crust plates and Hispaniola’s pressure-point location, Haiti is likely to sustain several high-magnitude earthquakes per century. Also, being located along one of the more frequent tracks for major hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin, Haiti is expected to sustain high winds, heavy rains and flooding.
Since Haiti has no national building code, it was required that all buildings be designed and constructed to the International Building Code (IBC) Types and Categories defined for conditions like those known to occur in Haiti. The enveloping requirements are: (a) maximum considered earthquake (MCE) spectral response accelerations, SDS = 1.57 (.2 second period) and SD1 = .61 (1-sec period); and hurricane sustained wind speeds of 124-mph (Category-3 nominal).
There are 62 construction projects being undertaken by the SOUTHCOM/NAVFAC Humanitarian Assistance Program, under management by ROICC Haiti. Construction contractors are multi-national, including Haitian, American, and Israeli firms.
The Haitian government and the communities affected by these engineering projects have conveyed a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm about NAVFAC’s contributions to the development of the
nation’s emergency preparedness and community outreach program. A key goal of the program is decentralization of the Haitian government’s disaster response. The Disaster Preparedness Projects being developed will enable the individual Haitian Departments to meet this goal by locally providing support and supplies in reaction to future emergencies. When completed, these projects are ultimately expected to endow the Haitian people with a much greater degree of national self-sufficiency.
The emergency response network being developed in Haiti—through the Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Assistance Program—will provide national assets that are owned and operated by the Haitian government. These assets will provide each Haitian Department with up-and-ready community infrastructure. They will enable the local governments to react promptly to future emergencies with life saving resources and tools to spur rapid restoration of essential utilities and communication systems.