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Tsunami! Information Sharing in the Wake of Destruction

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Journal article

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On December 26, 2004, an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude jolted the Banda Aceh region on Indonesias Sumatra Island. The quake generated a tsunami that exploded across the Indian Ocean at 500 miles per hour. The tidal surge brought death and destruction to Banda Aceh and Indias Nicobar Islands 16 minutes after the quake. Within 90 minutes, the tsunami engulfed Sri Lankas coastal areas, and within 7 hours its waves crashed into the far shores of Somalia. The ensuing catastrophe seized the attention of the world. Over 295,000 people died and 5 million were left homeless. U.S. Pacific Command PACOM rapidly responded to this humanitarian disaster by initiating Operation Unified Assistance. The command deployed 25 ships, 45 fixed-wing aircraft, 57 helicopters, and 16,000 personnel to assist stricken countries. This force delivered over 16 million pounds of supplies and flew helicopter operations totaling over 4,000 hours. Within days, it became apparent that a traditional military command structure was not optimal for this nontraditional mission. The ensuing operation involved over 90 nongovernmental organizations NGOs and military forces from 18 nations. The PACOM mission during Unified Assistance was to support the U.S. Agency for International Development USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, other national forces, and international organizations in providing disaster relief to the governments of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and other affected nations to minimize loss of life and human suffering. This article examines the need to embed national agency representatives within theater intelligence commands to facilitate passing of timely and accurate information from the agencies to the operating forces. Although it focuses on information-sharing, which was critical to the overall operation, the article presents a successful model of transforming U.S. forces to become more agile, adaptable, and responsive to emerging crises.

Subject Categories:

  • Information Science
  • Military Intelligence
  • Unconventional Warfare

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