Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) is the world’s largest maritime military exercise. The 2014 event (the exercise is biennial) involved approximately 25,000 personnel across 22 participating militaries (and seven observer states). The US Navy’s 3rd Fleet hosts the exercise and this year integrated a two-week humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) component into the exercise for the first time in its history. Mrs Philippa Nicholson (Humanitarian Manager at ACMC) participated in the exercise through the Civil Military Coordination Center, while Mr Lyndon McCauley (Deputy Director Civil-Military Outreach) also attended to evaluate the exercise and its suitability for other Australian government agencies, such as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to be involved in future years.
The HA/DR component of RIMPAC aims to train and educate participants—both civilian and military—in planning and conducting appropriate military responses to an international disaster. The HA/DR component, while providing invaluable civil-military interaction opportunities, also used the exercise learning environment to test a coalition-style military approach to disaster response (HA/DR responses are traditionally bilateral operations between assisting and affected states).
RIMPAC’s organisers employed a coalition of Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada and Indonesia to provide a ‘proof of concept’ on the coalition approach to disaster responses to the United Nations. Although the coalition approach added complexity to RIMPAC, this proof of concept will inform any future use of the coalition approach.
Another first for the exercise was the involvement of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). UNOCHA joined the United States Agency for International Development’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA) in participating as ‘real world’ regional representatives.
While much of RIMPAC focused on practising an international community response to a disaster, the state of Hawaii used the exercise to test their own capabilities in response to a local emergency. Hawaiian state agencies provided qualified personnel to fill the roles of emergency management authorities, health practitioners and a Disaster Medical Assistance Team for the disaster-affected ‘host nation’ (the fictitious nation of Griffon). Filling these roles and testing the capabilities of its health system served to provide accreditation of the Hawaiian Healthcare Association. This year the Hawaiian state government received accreditation of its disaster response process and its ability to respond to the triage, treatment and transport of more than 200 civilian evacuees.
The RIMPAC HA/DR exercise provided an important opportunity for participating military forces to test their deployment of military civil defence assets within a humanitarian–host country-led exercise construct. The Royal Australian Navy divers supported the HA/DR response via participating clearance divers who conducted clearance surveys of Oyster Bay shipping channels and pier assessments to enable delivery of humanitarian assistance. The Royal New Zealand Navy also practised the delivery of aid to a disaster-affected population using the HMNZS Canterbury’s amphibious landing craft.
RIMPAC’s disaster response phase provides numerous opportunities for militaries, government agencies and humanitarian organisations for civil-military interaction. The disaster-prone nature of the Asia-Pacific region is no secret to anyone; however, RIMPAC offers a unique opportunity for response agencies to participate in a large-scale, live exercise with many diverse personnel. The range of actors involved in RIMPAC aptly demonstrates the diversity of organisations’ mandates, training, personnel, equipment and overall objectives, and herein lies the challenge of civil-military interaction in a disaster response environment.
The exercise provides an understanding of what assets the region has to respond to disaster and how to best use them. The diversity of capabilities on show at RIMPAC is well demonstrated by this picture at Pearl Harbor base during RIMPAC. The United States Navy ship Mercy, a hospital ship that can provide care for up to a thousand patients on board, is dwarfed by the outbound USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier that requires a crew of more than 3,000 to sail, and a further 2,000 to fully operate the aircraft carrier functions. These contrasting platforms are typical of the diverse capabilities represented at RIMPAC and are a fraction of the overall presence around Hawaii’s shores during the exercise.
On the inter-agency side, civilian agencies influenced the execution of the exercise, and the future actions of military participants, by providing a series of presentations to the military training audience before the exercise commenced. In addition to country capabilities briefings, representatives from several agencies discussed best practices of civil-military engagement, humanitarian aid and foreign assistance. Presentations were given by USAID, ACMC, UNOCHA and Project HOPE, which guided participants on the primacy of civilian agencies in disaster operations and the best way to integrate military capabilities into the response.
RIMPAC will take place again in 2016 with what is likely to be an increasing inter-agency presence and a disaster response component that remains an invaluable opportunity for the Asia-Pacific’s militaries and humanitarian agencies alike.