Help from Hawaii ready to roll
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i seemed to be holding its breath yesterday in anticipation of doing its part in what President Obama called America's "swift, coordinated and aggressive effort to save lives" in Haiti following Tuesday's earthquake that officials fear may have killed tens of thousands of people in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
A spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command said it stood ready to do whatever might be needed.
"The Pacific Command has not been asked specifically by the Joint Chiefs or the Department of Defense to offer any assistance," said Daniel J.W. King, deputy public affairs director at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters.
"But if this thing is as big as what they're saying, I wouldn't doubt that there could be some assets that are requested."
Likewise, Hawai'i Disaster Medical Assistance Team commander Toby Clairmont said his team is ready to mobilize for Haiti when it's called on to do so. Clairmont said that probably wouldn't happen in the short term because the national program has already put an international response team on alert from some half-dozen states and told them to prepare to go to Haiti.
"Because it's an international operation, and because there is very little infrastructure there even on a good day, mission planning is really complex right now," said Clairmont, who equated the scale of the disaster in the Haitian capital to what happened in the Gulf States following Hurricane Katrina.
"We do expect this to be a protracted operation, lasting weeks and months. So, what our Hawai'i team has been instructed to do is pay attention and we may be used later, as teams rotate in and out of the country."
Meanwhile, citizens who want to help with the Haiti disaster relief effort are advised to donate to established relief organizations such as the Red Cross.
Clairmont said the first to respond to the crisis in Haiti would be teams from states closest to that country, such as Florida and Georgia. In the meantime, the Hawai'i team will be contributing indirectly.
Clairmont said the Hawai'i team's primary area of responsibility is the Pacific and the western United States. As more disaster teams are drawn into the Haitian crisis, the Hawai'i team will be needed to cover a larger portion of the country in case another disaster occurs elsewhere.
The physicians and nurses in Hawai'i's disaster medical assistance program are similar to military reservists and guardsmen; they have regular jobs but can be called on quickly in an emergency, he said.
The federally funded National Disaster Medical System is broken into three large regions — east, central and western. The 70-member Hawai'i team is the only one of its kind in the entire Pacific, which Clairmont said includes an area larger than the entire U.S. Mainland.
"So, they are reluctant to drop teams like ours into Haiti because it would leave such a huge piece of the United States uncovered," he said. "Eventually, though, as teams rotate out of Haiti, they will begin drawing from other parts of the country. We may ultimately be asked to assist."
Meanwhile, Coralie Matayoshi, chief executive for the American Red Cross, Hawaii Chapter, said her organization is asking for monetary donations.
"We are trying to raise a million dollars for the victims in Haiti," Matayoshi said. "The message right now for here in Hawai'i and across the nation is that we need to raise money to get help to those people in Haiti."
Matayoshi said residents of the aloha state are always quick to respond to those in need, and she didn't think Haiti would be an exception.
"People in Hawai'i just relate to island people who have suffered a devastating disaster," she said. "Already I've heard from someone who wants to do a concert here in Hawai'i with all the proceeds going to the victims in Haiti.
"So, I think there will be a lot of people who will want to donate. I've braced my staff to respond to phone calls."