CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa --
On March 11, 2011, the worst undersea earthquake to affect Japan struck at a magnitude of 9.0 off the coast of Honshu creating waves exceeding one-hundred feet in height. The waves swept inland, taking the lives of more than 15,000 people and injuring thousands more. The survivors were left with damaged roads, buildings and industrial facilities, to include the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant which leaked radiation to the surrounding area.
In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan/ Yolanda - the strongest recorded typhoon the Philippines has experienced - struck the Philippines took the lives of more than 5,000 while displacing more than 10,000 people and causing millions of dollars of damage.
In response to these disasters, the Marine Corps sent a humanitarian assistance survey team (HAST) to assess what requirements are needed for a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation.
“The HAST goes in to determine the number of people displaced, the amount of supplies needed, the number of buildings damaged and to see what we can provide, things like food, construction or water,” said Sgt. Trevor McNally, the engineer chief with Engineer Platoon, Combat Logistics Battalion 31, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “It is one of the purposes of the MEU being forward deployed and reaching out to those locations in order to respond to crises.”
Typhoons and natural disasters are common in the Asia-Pacific region, according to McNally, from Hinckley, Minnesota. It’s important to build a muscle memory and rehearse disaster scenarios to reduce error when responding to a natural disaster.
The HAST refined their skills by responding to locations with simulated damage around Camp Hansen Jan. 13.
They provided reconnaissance around a simulated town, determined affected areas, located critical infrastructure, looked for fresh water and established staging areas for supplies and people. They measured roads to ensure that tactical vehicles could drive on them and they snapped photographs of the damage, roads and buildings to assist their planning efforts.
The scenarios are meant to prepare them to respond efficiently at a moment’s notice.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” said 1st Lt. William Tidd, the assistant OIC for the HAST. “It could be an earthquake, a mud slide or a tsunami, you’ll never know.”
The drills the team rehearsed throughout the day are meant to improve their response time to within 48-72 hours, according to Tidd, a native of Angola, Indiana.
“During the time of a natural disaster, our allies within the surrounding area will look for assistance in a situation where the destruction is a little more than what they can handle,” said Tidd. “Remaining ready, we will be able to offer a supporting hand.”