The U.S. government’s long-term role in Haiti’s recovery from the devastation of the magnitude-7 earthquake on Jan. 12 is still not clearly defined, and it may not be for weeks and months to come. But in the short term, as logistics improve and food and water distribution stabilizes, the creation of temporary housing and medical facilities is at the forefront of the second phase of operations. Other governments and industry volunteers also are playing a role.

U.S. Marines with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion unload supplies from a floating causeway offloaded from the Military Sealift Command maritime prepositioning ship in the harbor of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 26.
Photo: U.S. Navy Photo By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Lussier.
U.S. Marines with the 8th Engineer Support Battalion unload supplies from a floating causeway offloaded from the Military Sealift Command maritime prepositioning ship in the harbor of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 26.

Navy Vice Adm. Alan Thompson, director of the U.S. defense logistics agency, said on Jan. 27 that U.S. military assistance in Haiti will likely continue for three to six more months before giving way to international and nongovernment groups as they take on greater responsibility.

On Feb. 1, officials with the U.S. Southern Command task force managing the U.S. military’s disaster-relief operation said food and water distribution is now in the hands of a network of nongovernmental organizations. The military is starting to transition “to getting people shelter and building up the medical capacity” of the Haitian government and other groups that are providing medical care. Food distribution is shifting from passing out daily rations to managing long-term supply logistics of 15 distribution points around the cities of Port-au-Prince and Carrefour.

A key element in the logistics pipeline is turning out to be the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Southern Command is operating a joint logistics hub there to move supplies and personnel to and from Port-au-Prince.

Guantanamo is about 170 miles northwest of Haiti, making it a logical staging area. A station spokesman says daily flights at its airfield have increased from three flights a day to 45. There also has been a significant increase of ship traffic at the station’s ports. This is putting a strain on the facility, which is normally self-sufficient in the production of energy and water. The Navy is bringing in additional food and water to support the station and to resupply the ships, as well as five mobile powerplants from Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, Calif., to help it cope with power demands.

The Military Sealift Command is operating the high-speed ferry ships MV Huakai and MV Alakai in the sealift. They have been configured for the mission to each hold 450 tons of cargo and 500 passengers. They can travel at a sustained speed of 33 knots.

Huakai was under way first, loaded with a rapid port opening package, communications gear, fork lifts, trucks, Humvees, and other equipment and supplies.

Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, reported on Jan. 28 that U.S. military personnel had opened a seaport outside the badly damaged main port facilities in Port-au-Prince and were bringing in about 200 containers a day using temporary “over-the-shore” arrangements. He said he expected capacity to reach 800 containers a day by mid-February. The temporary facilities will continue to operate as the repairs continue on the key Port-au-Prince south pier, which has suffered additional damage from aftershocks. He said it may take eight to 10 weeks for regular piers to return to operation.

The effort is beginning to yield work for industry firms. Fluor Corp.’s government group was selected by the U.S. Army as a relief support contractor under its Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP IV). It was awarded an initial $50,000 task order on Jan. 28 to provide support and services to U.S. military and government personnel for 30 days.

“However, both the value and the performance period of the task order can be expanded as the need for services provided under LOGCAP expands,” says an Army Sustainment Command statement announcing the award. Scope of work likely will include building and maintaining several logistical support areas in the Port-au-Prince vicinity. Fluor is set to provide construction services, followed by sustainment services and logistics support, says the Army.

The company competed against two other LOGCAP contract holders, DynCorp International and KBR Inc., for the award. CH2M Hill is a member of the DynCorp team.

U.S. construction managers and other industry volunteers who have traveled to Haiti to assist in damage assessment and infrastructure-related logistics to aid medical teams found long-time construction infrastructure challenges were much exacerbated by the quake.

At the country’s main hospital in Port au Prince, its only public teaching facility, “we found seven generators in various states of disrepair, not to mention a hodgepodge spaghetti of distribution wiring,” says Chris Strock, a Virginia Tech University doctoral student who had worked on pro bono construction projects in Haiti before the quake. He said an 800-KW generator installed in 2005 by an international firm to run the entire facility mostly had been unused because local workers could not do minor repairs. “It took us five or six days with help from the Corps of Engineers, volunteers from Haiti Power and even a guy from France’s public power provider to get the thing running,” he says. “Until then, we pieced together smaller generators to keep operating rooms open, but it may have cost us many lives.”

But Strock credits military assistance from the Corps of Engineers and others in providing logistics and communications assistance. “They have a lot of experience from Iraq and Afghanistan about how to support things like this,” he says. “Haitians in general do not like U.S. troops but their response has changed this perception.”

Strock was assisting a major effort in country by another U.S. expatriate volunteer, James Ansara, chairman of Boston-based Shawmut Design & Construction, who also had pre-quake construction experience in Haiti assisting work for a nonprofit group there, Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH). The firm had been pushing to build a 180-bed PIH hospital in the town of Mirebelais, 30 miles from Port au Prince and set for completion in 2012, but plans are now being accelerated to complete a temporary facility by next January, says Ansara. “This will be an extremely challenging project in every respect,” he says. Ansara has created and seeded with up to $1 million in matching monies a dedicated fund for Haiti reconstruction. Run by the Boston Foundation, it now has more than $600,000 in donations.

Strock says “there is talk” of relocating a third of the current population to other parts of the country, razing the damaged structures in Port au Prince and “building the city back one block at a time.” He says the government also is considering relocating its capital. He adds that while shoddy construction and poor oversight is blamed for a high death toll, “the root of Haiti’s woefully inept infrastructure is in the past, citing European landowner clear-cutting of former lush forests. “If engineers and builders are to play a positive role in Haiti’s future, then we must come to grips with its history,” Strock says. Industry volunteers, he adds, are “toying with the idea of establishing a trades school for Haitians that would include internships for locals in U.S. firms.”