Haiti response proves interagency collaboration can work

With the sun setting on the stovepipe era, a tragedy highlights how government can do better

Governmental struggles to work together are nothing new, but the tug of war has become more obvious with the evolution of technology and mandated transparency. However, every once in awhile, a cataclysmic event will bring together the factions and defy federal compartmentalization.

According to the Coast Guard’s second-in-command, the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January was one of those events.

The Haiti disaster response highlighted the Coast Guard’s unique capabilities but bared the service’s limited capacity, said Vice Adm. John Currier, U.S. Coast Guard chief of staff. Currier spoke today at the Interagency Resources Management Conference in Cambridge, Md.

But when other agencies stepped up to supplement the Coast Guard’s limited capacity, the suddenly efficient multi-agency cooperation proved the power of cooperation.

“The Coast Guard really has a strong partnership ethic,” which helped drive emergency collaboration as the world rushed to the aid of earthquake victims, Currier said. The experience highlighted key parallels between organizations that, if better exploited in the future, could improve the way disparate agencies work together.

“We learned that we do have a well-defined national response framework,” he said. "We can operate on an interagency level, and we can translate that to international cooperation."

One organization that was already functioning in the region, the Homeland Security Department’s Task Force Southeast, is a model of interagency cooperation, Currier said. Although constrained by daily operations in the Caribbean involving the drug trade, migration and Cuba, the task force combined efforts with other U.S. and international agencies to best meet the needs on the ground in Port-au-Prince in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

However, it shouldn’t be a natural disaster that sheds light on capabilities in cooperation.

“We set the conditions for whether or not we succeed,” Currier said. "People are the biggest enablers."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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