FORT CARSON, Colo. -- When disaster strikes in another country, the U.S. may respond in a variety of ways. Private citizens may travel to the area to lend assistance. Charitable organizations may collect funds for disaster relief and celebrities may hold benefit concerts.

Behind the scenes, coordinating much of the logistic and financial support, are representatives for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Representatives for USAID came to Fort Carson Feb. 13-14 to speak about protocols for responding to disasters with Soldiers of 4th Infantry Division, 52nd Engineer Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Colorado National Guard and the 440th Civil Affairs Battalion.

"We could be tasked to give assistance," said Maj. George Meyer, 440th Civil Affairs Battalion, who helped coordinate the event. "This leads to a better unity of effort and gives a better understanding of roles and relationships."

Thomas Frey, USAID representative, said it was important to meet and educate military representatives about protocol to alleviate challenges prior to a disaster.

"It's much better to exchange business cards before the event than during," he said.

In the 1960s, Congress found responses to natural disasters in Costa Rica and the former Yugoslavia inadequate, said William Laspina, representative for USAID.

According to Laspina, Congress created USAID and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance to save lives, alleviate human suffering and reduce the economic and social impact of disasters.
"To fulfill that mandate, we do disaster response, mitigation and disaster risk -- which includes education and preparedness programs -- and organize and manage the U.S. government response for disaster assistance," he said.

Before providing assistance, Laspina said, U.S. ambassadors in the host nation must request assistance through USAID and OFDA.

In order to receive financial and logistical support, a host nation must request for or be willing to accept assistance from the U.S.; the disaster must be beyond the capacity of the host nation's abilities; and it must be in the interest of the U.S. government to provide assistance, he added.

"We're the check writers," Laspina said. "We fund programs (such as non-government organizations) and humanitarian agencies. We evaluate, monitor and write the checks."

If a country meets the criteria to receive financial support and the U.S. ambassador to that country requests that support, Laspina said OFDA may provide up to $50,000 immediately to be dispersed to NGOs or humanitarian agencies, such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, for emergency supplies.

Officials with OFDA may provide grants to agencies provided on a needs basis.

OFDA may also supply humanitarian commodities, such as plastic sheeting, blankets, water containers, hygiene kits and water treatment units, which it has stockpiled in various locations around the world.

Sgt. 1st Class Peter Evans, civil affairs noncommissioned officer in charge for 4th Inf. Div., said he appreciated the opportunity to learn from USAID representatives.

"It's pretty interesting and an awesome opportunity," he said. "It's a very useful course, especially for personnel going to Kuwait who may have to respond to a disaster."

Page last updated Fri February 22nd, 2013 at 00:00