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Program Sets Shape for Future Humanitarian Operations

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2008 – The National Defense University is leading a coalition of businesses, foreign governments, nonprofit groups, universities, federal agencies and the U.S. military to assemble solutions for helping people who live in stressed environments, the program’s director told military bloggers Oct. 8.

Linton Wells, distinguished research fellow and force transformation chair at the university, leads the STAR-TIDES program, short for Sustainable Technologies, Accelerated Research - Transportable Infrastructures for Development and Emergency Support.

Broadly stated, Wells said, STAR-TIDES’ mission is to facilitate assistance to stressed populations in a rapid, but affordable and sustainable manner. He defined stressed populations as those that are “post-war, post-disaster or impoverished.”

The program has no mandate to develop, produce or deploy technology or resources, Wells said. Rather, it encourages information sharing, expansion of social networks and identification of effective humanitarian assistance solutions.

STAR-TIDES is a knowledge repository, not a field activity, Wells said. “We try to pull together information about what's happening in this space,” he explained, “[and] make it available to decision makers and those who work in the field.”

Improvements in this area support the Defense Department’s missions of building partnership capacity, providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, stabilizing and rebuilding, and supporting civil authorities, Wells explained.

The program has three broad focus areas, Wells said: enhancing the ability of civilian coalitions to operate in stressed environments; extending the military’s ability to operate in partnership with civilian organizations; and economizing in logistics and supply-chain management.

Within that focus, he added, the program pursues seven “buckets” of infrastructure solutions: cooking, heating, cooling and lighting, integrated combustion, power, sanitation, shelter and water.

Private-sector and academic experts recommend technologies and pursue research and development, Wells said. “It's been just really interesting to see some of the ideas that come up,” he added.

Solutions have to be individually tailored to apply across a range of environments, Wells noted. Part of his team’s research, he said, involves testing potential solutions across four case studies: refugee support in Africa, stabilization reconstruction in Afghanistan, defense support to civil authorities in case of a major disaster in the national capital region, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in tropical regions such as Central America or the Western Pacific.

The scale of the solutions required depends on the environment in which agencies would be working and the expected duration of the crisis, Wells said.

In any given scenario, Wells said, the question becomes how to find the right mix of business, government and civil society elements that need to work together to solve the problem.

In the Central American case, for example, officials would need to identify the affected country’s equivalent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, determine what local languages need to be spoken, and find out which nongovernmental organizations operate there, Wells said. Next, officials would determine how entities such as the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. Southern Command would work with them.

“We're trying to take a holistic approach to this,” Wells said.

Wells described a layered process of identifying infrastructure solutions, checking them against likely scenarios and determining a supply-chain model. But that work is only one portion of the equation, he said. Other factors include:

-- Establishing and maintaining social networks must be so the agencies involved are comfortable working together;

-- Developing policy, operating procedures and legal frameworks so organizations can proceed confidently; and

-- Conducting training and education regularly so that lessons become institutionalized.

Developing those solutions requires enormous brainpower and brainstorming, Wells said.

“The heart of STAR-TIDES is a broad coalition of several hundred people and organizations that range from Iceland to Singapore,” he said. “There are a lot of different folks involved.”

(Tim Kilbride works in the New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)

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