January 13, 2010

Haitian Hell

As you probably know by now, a 7.0 earthquake centered just five miles underground apparently destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au- Prince yesterday, and damged cites and towns throughout the impoverished island nation.

World governments, the Red Cross and other volunteer aide organizations are rushing in to save as many lives as possible.

The exact scope of the devastation is not precisely known and may not be known for some time, but there are expectations that thousands are dead in collapsed buildings, and that as many as three million people will need some sort of assistance in the wake of this natural disaster.

We're going to do the best we can with what we have, but we could do better.

In recent years there have been some novel ideas floated on using retiring U.S. Navy vessels as floating emergency response bases for natural disasters and terrorist attacks on coastal regions in our hemisphere. Theoretically, ships could be based strategically on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as in a port in the Gulf of Mexico with supplies and rescue equipment pre-loaded for dispatch on very short notice.

An acquaintance of mine named Ward Brewer (which I've unfortunately fallen out of contact with) was a firm proponent of the idea, and proposed using some of the retiring Tarawa-class amphibious assault ships in this role. While obsolete by Navy standards and being replaced by more modern vessels, many of the features that made the Tarawa-class so well-suited for landing Marines on hostile shore would work exceptionally well for transporting heavy equipment, medical supplies, and rescue craft to areas in need. Each Tarawa can create fresh water, electricity, and has a 300-bed hospital with four operating rooms, 17 ICU rooms, and a 1,000-unit blood bank.

As it so happens, two Tarawa class ships are still in service, and presumably could be re-tasked to this rescue role upon their retirements with minimal transition work, and the first ship in the series is presently inactive and presumably ready to be refit as needed.

With real unemployment presently at 22% and skilled American tradesmen at shipyards around the nation needing work, it would seem to be an excellent time for a President so concerned about America's image to announce plans to turn these old warriors into angels of mercy.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at January 13, 2010 11:18 AM

We do already have the Mercy Ships, who do a great job of being floating hospitals around the Caribbean. Makes sense to support the infrastructure we've got before deploying new (and expensive) gear, no?


Posted by: Brian L. at January 13, 2010 12:17 PM

I don't know if you missed the gist of the post or what, but he was mentioning Tarawa AAS', which aren't new, nor is operating them as expensive as it could be.

Posted by: GS at January 13, 2010 12:25 PM

GS -- Not trying to disparage any existing efforts; just pointing out other operations that are already out there.


Posted by: Brian L. at January 13, 2010 01:25 PM

The Mercy Ships are effective as hospitals, but the conversion of the Tarawa class ships would be into Disaster response ships. They would have the ability to support many SAR helicopters at once, and would be able to have on board vehicles, heavy equipment and smaller boats which would help the search. They would also have hospital facilities, desalinization, large stores of fuel, emergency food and water, and quarters for rescuers and victims. The majority of major disasters (in this country and in most others) are Hurricanes and Earthquakes and usually most damage happens along a coast line. It makes perfect sense to convert these ships into something that would be very useful to so many in their time of need.

Posted by: Web at January 13, 2010 02:23 PM

Unfortunately for Haiti, the current administration would much rather posture than do anything useful.

However the idea is sound - retask a helicopter assault ship for rescue operations. They do have all the facilities, and, as we already have them, along with trained crew, it really does make a lot of sense.

Now to find someone with the credibility to get this on an agenda somewhere...

Posted by: wpw at January 13, 2010 02:41 PM

I just heard The One on the radio and he is promising a coordinated response.

What is a coordinated response?

Posted by: David at January 13, 2010 02:47 PM

Usually that means military airlift for civilian and/or military personnel and supplies, but with this administration, who knows?

Just so people understand the size of the ships being discussed in the original post,
this is a Tarawa-class vessel (coincidentally photographed at Morehead City State Port).

Historically the US has made use of carriers for natural disaster recovery.

Posted by: wpw at January 13, 2010 02:58 PM

It is a sound idea. An aircraft carrier can do a lot, but it is not the most efficient means of delivering disaster relief. Dedicated ships could do so much more, at less cost, and for an extended duration.

Haiti, for all intents and purposes, has ceased to exist as a nation. This relief effort is going to last for years.

Posted by: ThomasD at January 14, 2010 12:37 AM