Humanitarian Response Program Offers Expertise For COVID-19 Response

Image of COVID-19 coronavirus

The U.S. Naval War College’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program has jumped into action to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

Faculty members have been working on at least four different efforts to assist Rhode Island and other responders in combating the infectious respiratory disease that has killed more than 12,000 people in the United States this year.

“Our goal is to help save lives and alleviate suffering in the state of Rhode Island, the U.S. and across the globe,” said professor David Polatty, founder and director of the Humanitarian Response Program.

LIAISON: In one example of these efforts, Polatty has been activated as a Navy Reservist to serve as the Rhode Island Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer.

Now Polatty reports to Camp Fogarty in East Greenwich to work with the state National Guard and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency. His role is to help integrate Defense Department assistance if it is requested in the future. One example of this assistance could be additional medical personnel.

“If they need the Navy, I do everything I can to help them get the capability they need, whether it’s engineering or medical or logistics,” said Polatty, a 1992 U.S. Naval Academy graduate.

“If the response requires a unique Navy capability, then I’m able to help facilitate requesting it and ideally having it show up quickly as possible to help the people of Rhode Island,” he said.

RESPONSE RECOMMENDATIONS: Professors Benjamin Davies and Brittany Card created a detailed list of recommendations based on the program’s six years of research on public health crises and pandemic responses.

“We’ve spent so much of our time focused on teaching how to make humanitarian response as effective as possible in the international context,” Davies said. “It is critically important to us that we’re able to apply those same lessons where we live.”

That research includes lessons from the Naval War College’s Urban Outbreak 19 event last September, which war-gamed a fictional large-scale infectious disease outbreak. More details about Urban Outbreak 19 and its findings are available here:

“This is leveraging the ability of the War College to help facilitate dialogue between key leaders during this incredibly difficult time, and also highlight some important findings we learned from Urban Outbreak,” Polatty said.

DASHBOARD: Polatty also worked with a team of experts from academia and the nongovernmental sector to develop the COVID-19 Preparedness Dashboard,

“The idea is that local response is where everything really happens, because the affected communities are actually in the best position to help themselves first,” Polatty said.

The result was an easy-to-use, interactive website in English that is currently being translated to other languages so it can be shared widely.

“It was inspiring to see the academic community partner with nongovernmental organizations to create something uniquely targeted for local responders who are overwhelmed by COVID-19,” Polatty said.

CASE STUDY: Cmdr. Andres Howard, a Chilean Navy officer who is an international fellow in the Humanitarian Response Program, is leading development of a COVID-19 case study to be taught at the college in the next few months.

“The ‘lessons learned’ that we are getting on a daily basis, and the coordination issues that we are running into, any challenges, any opportunities to improve the response, he is building that into academic materials that we will teach this trimester,” Polatty said.

Howard said he has two focuses, tracking what the United Nations is doing as an international body and analyzing how the armed forces of several other countries are contributing to their national efforts.

“I have no doubt that this approach to gathering information from officers all over the world will give us insight that will be taught in our electives and shared within the Naval War College community,” Howard said.

The case study will be added to the program’s elective course and materials will be offered to other faculty to teach as they desire.

The college’s Humanitarian Response Program grew out of Polatty’s research on the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The college officially created the academic program in 2015 as a year-long series of electives and also as a supplement to existing courses in the College of Maritime Operational Warfare.

It currently has five core faculty members and maintains partnerships with Harvard University, Brown University, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and other higher education institutions around the world.

“The focus of our program is to do evidence-based research – real research on actual disasters – and bring best practices into academic courses so we can teach it to the people leading responses in the future,” Polatty said. “And while we want to help any military partner we can, our big focus is making the U.S. Navy better at executing this mission when it needs to.”

The Humanitarian Response Program has created a comprehensive e-Portal that includes links to critical information and helpful planning tools on COVID-19:

LAPTOPS: In addition to its academic efforts, the U.S. Naval War College has loaned out 46 government laptop computers in response to a call from the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

The laptops, identified as a critical need by the state, will be used in the statewide COVID-19 response. Specifically, some of the computers will be used to help track who has been in contact with people who test positive for COVID-19, as needed by the Rhode Island Department of Health to support accelerated testing that started April 2.

“We greatly the appreciate the assistance of our local federal partner, the U.S. Naval War College, and especially the speed and urgency with which it moved to get us the much needed information technology to support the state's COVID-19 disaster response,” said Marc Pappas, director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.

The computers, configured for travel use, are normally used by college faculty and staff when traveling on government business.

“I’m glad that the Naval War College was in the position to help,” said Joseph Pangborn, the college’s command information officer.

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Jeanette Steele, U.S. Naval War College Public Affairs
April 08, 2020

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