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General Keen’s Blog: Coordinate and Collaborate

By Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen
Commander, Joint Task Force Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 22, 2010 – Picture more than 1,000 nongovernmental organizations; the United Nations and its nearly 9,000 UN military force; embassy personnel from within the country, the region and around the world; European Union representatives, and on top of that, more than 20,000 U.S. troops and a sea of planes filled with supplies and volunteers, all converged on an island about the size of Maryland with one objective: save lives and help the injured.

This was the scene during the days and weeks that followed the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area on Jan 12. This is one of the worst natural disasters our world has ever witnessed. It required a response of immediacy that the international community could never have anticipated or imagined. The number of countries and nongovernmental organizations that converged on this Caribbean island was unprecedented.

However, this convergence of humanitarian assistance presented a challenge in its own right for Joint Task Force Haiti, whose mission was, and continues to be, to support the lead federal agency, the United States Agency for International Development. How did Joint Task Force Haiti bridge the gap of language, culture, function, and public-to-private sector? We did it with coordination and collaboration, the “new C2.”

Now I know there are some purists who will read this blog and say, “No, C2 stands for command and control, not coordinate and collaborate.” You will get no argument from me. We in Joint Task Force Haiti maintain command and control throughout the operation; it’s standard practice. But what I found was that command and control, though very important, was not the critical element in achieving the objective in this humanitarian assistance mission. What we have found is that our success as a comprehensive body – the government of Haiti, U.S. Embassy, the U.N., USAID, Joint Task Force Haiti and the nongovernmental organizations – is primarily tied to our ability to coordinate and collaborate.

We recognized early in the operation that if we weren’t engaged in C2 at the tactical, operational and strategic levels, we would fall short. The means by which we’ve done this has varied across the different levels of organizations. For example, our commanders on the ground, many of which relied upon their time in Iraq and Afghanistan, were well prepared when it came to engaging community leaders. The challenge was at the higher levels, somewhere between the operational and strategic levels. It was very cumbersome at times and in many cases overwhelming, to navigate through the levels of the different organizations and nongovernmental organizations.

The one organization that served as the conduit for bringing all the different organizations and functions under one “C2 roof” was the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center, or HACC. The HACC, which is a function within the U.N., was the central body that pulled all the C2 efforts of Joint Task Force Haiti, U.N. military forces, USAID and nongovernmental organizations together to build a common operating picture of what was required. It was composed of more than 30 officers and noncommissioned officers and led by a Joint Task Force Haiti general officer. The HACC was plugged into every facet of the joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational environment, ensuring all our efforts were synched.

There are many valuable lessons learned from Operation Unified Response. The complex nature of the environment in Haiti has proved to me that C2 is one of the most important elements -- if not the most important element -- in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operation. Because of our ability to coordinate and collaborate, we were able save more lives, provide more assistance and reach more people during a critical time of need.

Contact Author

Army Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen

Related Sites:
Special Report: Haiti Earthquake Relief

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