AAR Operation: Whipcrack

After Action Report: Operation Whipcrack

AAR OP Whipcrack AAR 1.6.2015

Overview:

On 3 December 2014, Team Rubicon (TR) activated its Headquarters Emergency Operations Center (TR-HQ EOC) in response to Typhoon Hagupit. In response to the threat, Team Rubicon mobilized a Recon Team to liaise with government and international relief agencies in Manila. The team was supported by an enhanced EOC staff in Los Angeles. For the first time, this team included nearly forty remote planning personnel for information collection and analysis. The Recon Team arrived in advance of the Typhoon’s landfall and immediately proceeded to develop relationships and work on identifying response needs. At the same time, EOC personnel monitored the storm, placed a medical relief team on standby, and worked with partners to identify partnership opportunities. The storm’s abrupt loss of strength during landfall, alongside local reports and resource requests, quickly showed that a Team Rubicon response was not required. The decision was made to demobilize personnel on 8 December. Team Rubicon subsequently conducted an orderly retrograde to the states and re-allocated resources to fulfill support requests from Direct Relief International and the Philippine office of UN-OCHA (through remote Palantir support services). All personnel were released and the TR-HQ EOC was deactivated on 12 December.

Collaborating Organizations and Partners:

Embassy of the Philippines, World Health Organization, Philippines 911, Mammoth Medical, Direct Relief International, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Health Cluster, US State Department, Philippines Dept. of International Affairs, All-Hands Volunteers, Habitat for Humanity International

Key Strengths and Accomplishments:

  • Activated TR-HQ EOC and Recon Team for international response in advance of storm landfall with enough time to mobilize and deploy personnel.
  • Effectively liaised with Philippine government and on-site humanitarian community.
  • Activated large-scale remote planning support team that supported internal and external requests for information and strategic decision making.
  • Correctly interpreted information indicating Team Rubicon assistance was not needed.
  • Rapidly and efficiently placed relief medical team on standby for imminent deployment.

Key Lessons Learned:

  • Dedicated pre-planning, training, and infrastructure development necessary to achieve the desired level of efficiency at the TR-HQ EOC and improving continuity of operations.
  • Technology and processes for supporting personnel identification, selection, and mobilization for international operations needs to be updated.
  • Need to create standard guidance for Recon Team composition, use, and tasking

On 2 December 2014, a small tropical storm system in the South Pacific spiked in strength and rotation. The resulting typhoon, named Typhoon Hagupit (or Ruby in the Philippines), proceeded directly towards the Eastern Samar Islands. Hagupit was expected to moderately increase in strength and deflect Northward like all the others in 2014. Instead, it rapidly climbed to Super Typhoon strength and proceeded on a collision course with the Philippines.

Anticipation Phase:

TR activated its HQ EOC in Los Angeles on the morning of 3 December. The Headquarters team conducted a situation briefing and decided to proceed with a forward leaning strategy for responding to the storm. This strategy involved five key actions: the authorization of expanded staffing; initiation of the operations planning process; the immediate mobilization of a Recon Team, establishment of a formal EOC; and outreach to organizational partners and Philippine officials.

Over the next 24 hours, TR-HQ re-organized to support the EOC and an impending response while maintaining continuity of operations. Regional personnel were mobilized to support Planning, Member Management, Logistics, and Program Operations. A four-person Recon Team (including the Senior Programs Associate) was put on standby to imminently deploy to the Philippines. The EOC command structure, meeting schedule, and working spaces were also established. An Initial Situation Report was completed and submitted with a Reconnaissance Concept of Operations on 4 December at 1700 hours and approved at 2100 hours.

On 5 December, the Recon Team personnel were deployed directly from their homes of record to the Philippines. Their mission was to establish a base of operations, make liaison with partners and contacts in the Philippines, and identify a scope of work and area of operations for a TR response. The timing of the Team’s deployment placed them in the path of the storm at a pre-arranged hardened location to weather the storm’s passage over Manila.

Between 5 and 6 December, the TR-HQ EOC expanded its capabilities to support 24-7 planning operations and the selection of an initial response team to the Philippines. In order to support command and recon element information needs, the on-site planning section (four persons) remotely activated, organized, and tasked 38 skilled personnel in 24 hours for continuous information support operations. At the same time, the Member Management team began identifying and vetting a medical team for deployment.

Information collection by the Recon Team and the EOC Planning Team painted a distinctly different operational picture from the one created during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The Philippine Government had taken extensive measures to prepare for a major catastrophic event and had decided to handle initial response internally. The international humanitarian community was already embedded with thousands of personnel, significant resources, and a complete infrastructure due to the continuing recovery from Typhoon Haiyan. Additionally, Typhoon Hagupit rapidly lost strength and slowed down upon making landfall. All these indications pointed towards a negligible need for Team Rubicon response in the Philippines.

Transition Phase:

By the evening of Monday, 8 December, available information indicated that Hagupit’s impact was comparatively isolated and manageable by existing response resources in the Philippines. Major damage was isolated to the province of Samar, with minor damages ranging throughout surrounding regions. Communications and power remained in these surrounding regions. Death and injury reports were minimal and did not reflect a mass-casualty situation. This information, combined with a rapidly diminishing opening for emergent medical response, a lack of impactful alternate relief activity, and the high cost of large-scale international deployment, led TR-HQ leadership to initiate demobilization and transition.

Personnel placed on standby for the initial medical team deployment were stood down on 9 December. At the same time, remote planning personnel were redirected to providing Palantir support for Direct Relief International and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Philippines and West Africa. On-site planning personnel coordinated these activities while working on separate organizational development projects.

The Recon Team conducted closing meetings with partners on December 9th and arrived in Los Angeles for debriefing on 11 December.

An initial Hotwash of EOC personnel was conducted on 9 December and an After Action Review (including the Recon Team Personnel) was conducted on Friday, 12 December.

On 12 December, all personnel supporting operations were released and the TR-HQ EOC was deactivated.

Operation Metrics:

Operation Number TR14029
Locations Los Angeles, USA; Manila, Philippines
Dates/Duration 12/3/2014 – 12/12/2014 (9 days)
Total TR Volunteers 10 on-site; 38 remote (48 total)
Total Volunteer Hours 734 hours (including 362 remote planning support hours)
Work Completed Recon; Data collection & Palantir support to partner organizations
Partner Organizations Embassy of the Philippines, World Health Organization, Philippines 911, Mammoth Medical, Direct Relief International, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Health Cluster, US State Department, Philippines Dept. of International Affairs,   All-Hands Volunteers, Habitat for Humanity International

 

Offsite Coordination and Management:

 

Communication and Coordination

Successes
  • Early advance message sent to RA’s via DFO and DA’s to inform of imminent operation and activation of personnel to support TR-HQ EOC
  • Effective communications from HQ to Regional Membership Managers and Operations Mangers regarding activation and mobilization of personnel.
Difficulties
  • RA’s and DA’s had difficulty maintaining awareness of operation status and developments. Felt left in the dark as personnel were mobilized and vetted.
  • Difficulty capturing decision points and events by Recon team and EOC
Solutions
  • Use wide situation reports or universal information hub for awareness
  • Recon team and EOC Sections should complete ICS 214 for documentation

 

Member Management

Successes
  • Successful deployment of Salamander to track EOC personnel
  • Direct involvement of DFO and IMT Chief sped team selection process in such a way that Recon team was deployed in time and medical team was standing by on schedule.
  • Regional Managers participated in identification, vetting, and deployment process in accordance with existing policy.
  • Most of Recon Team arrived at Manila airport at the same time.
  • Individuals and Managers incentivized to complete Roll Call profiles in order to be eligible for deployments. Vetting standards effectively enforced.
Difficulties
  • No technology support for recon or medical response personnel selection
  • Roll Call profiles did not contain adequate information consistently enough to support international operations
  • Identification of personnel to deploy was largely subjective
  • Did not have enough personnel to support identification, tracking, and deployment of personnel to EOC and field.
  • Lack of clarity among RA’s and DA’s regarding role during mobilization of personnel for international operations.
  • Difficulty encountered de-conflicting TR-purchased and Airlink procured flights for accounting, tracking, and flight change purposes
Solutions
  • Provide increased guidance and incentives for personnel to add necessary information into Roll Call to support less subjective identification and selection processes.
  • Use ITA/Travel software to minimize flight scheduling difficulties

 

Planning

Successes
  • Effectively activated large force of personnel to support data collection and analysis.
  • Successfully developed products that supported EOC and Recon Team. Both found benefit in forwarding these products to partners.
  • Supported partner Palantir Instances using indigenous methodology.
Difficulties
  • Activation communications and tracking of hours worked was haphazard
  • Users of products sometimes needed source material for insight or research
  • Recon Team needed hazards/threat briefing prior to deployment
  • Recon Team desired detailed communications, WASH, and escape and evasion plans
Solutions
  • Add source information to RFI responses/reports
  • Create standardized recon plans and activities. Create pocket cards for info.

 

Logistics

Successes
  • Rapidly mobilized equipment to support 4 person recon team
Difficulties
  • Needed hard and soft copies of maps before field deployment
  • Team did not have a manual for the BGAN system
Solutions
  • Pre-notify airlines for gear arrangements so there are no issues when checking in gear

 

EOC Management and Infrastructure

Successes
  • First use of an EOC manager to oversee on-site logistics and support for maintaining and running the EOC. Successfully decreased strain on personnel and provided stability.
  • Admin arrangements ensured power, food, air cooling, lodging, and transportation
Difficulties
  • Difficulty distributing information due to having to identify names of people associated with functions and positions
Solutions
  • Create dedicated email addresses or groups for all relevant personnel

 

Response Activities (Recon Team):

 

Recon Team

Successes
  • Rapidly mobilized from home location directly to Manila (vs. deploying via TR-HQ)
  • Effectively coordinated information with EOC via voice and email
  • Accurately assessed ground situation and effectively handled political situations
Difficulties
  • Individuals moving equipment from TR-HQ had difficulty moving equipment due to separate deployment of personnel.
  • Team did not feel efficient in executing information gathering and relationship building tasks due to lack of specific to-do list.
  • Team had difficulty using TR’s cloud-based systems due to lack of familiarity/training
  • Recon team was unaware that it could pass RFI’s back to Planning Section at EOC
  • Lack of initial intra-team coordination and familiarity
Solutions
  • Provide a specific to-do list, including tasks for each specialty, to the Recon Team prior to deployment. Allow Team Leader to assign tasks in coordination with EOC needs.
  • Improve reporting between EOC and Recon team by using standard format that includes information found and information needed.
  • TR-EOC arranges and supports mandatory Recon Team meetings prior to deployment

 

Conclusions:

The response to Typhoon Hagupit/Ruby was the first complete activation of the TR-HQ EOC, and the first international response, since Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The quality of organization, speed, and coordination that occurred at all levels of the response exemplified the organization’s growth during 2014. Personnel were more proficient in conducting their operational tasks, EOC and the Recon Team collaborated fluidly, and targeted investment was made to ensure continuity of operations for non-mission activities. Externally, Team Rubicon’s interactions with governmental and partner agencies demonstrated the organization’s increasing professionalism. This was exemplified by deliberate coordination and collaboration with American, Philippine, and non-governmental entities from the beginning. This attentiveness ensured that Team Rubicon remained in sync with the overall response. More importantly, this attunement allowed the organization to make the most mature decision of all: to withdraw when, thankfully for the populations of Eastern Samar and all the Philippine Islands, the need for Team Rubicon’s skillset did not materialize.

The response to Typhoon Hagupit did highlight several areas in need of improvement and growth. Operation Whipcrack clearly demonstrated the need for dedicated pre-planning, training, and infrastructure development to increase the TR-HQ EOC’s efficiency and effectiveness. The operation also highlighted an organizational need to continue development of its budding international response program. This program is targeted toward building a trained pool of responders for rapid international response – something that will ease organizational strain significantly. These two areas provide Team Rubicon opportunity for growth in 2015.

Team Rubicon has remained on the path to re-emerging on the international stage since its abrupt re-appearance in 2013. This deliberate choice was made to support both domestic growth and the integration of lessons learned. The response to Typhoon Haiyan exposed the need for increased organizational infrastructure and professionalization if Team Rubicon wished to scale its variety of rapid, high impact disaster relief and humanitarian operations. Core infrastructure growth progressed steadily throughout 2014 with help of numerous domestic operations. A dedicated international operations program was established in the latter half of the year. Typhoon Hagupit/Ruby provided cause to test systems and processes in order to ensure Team Rubicon was able to effectively provide aid to the potentially affected population. This test clearly showed that, though a number of distinct improvements are necessary, Team Rubicon is making strong headway towards becoming a premier international relief organization.