Ken Issacs, director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Ken Issacs, director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

UTAPAO, Thailand — With the United States pledging more than $350 million to tsunami relief efforts, various organizations are on the ground here to ensure the aid gets to where it needs to be.

To help in that effort, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance has embedded personnel with the U.S. military here.

Much like the military, OFDA has teams that assess damage and situations when disasters strike anywhere in the world, according to Roberta Rossi, USAID spokeswoman. The teams help coordinate relief operations with nongovernment agencies, the military and international agencies. There currently are about 40 team members on the ground in the region, each a specialist in a certain field — water and sanitation, for example.

As of Thursday, OFDA had committed more than $36 million in humanitarian assistance, according to its Web site, Everything from water and sanitation to health care and shelter are being provided by OFDA in certain regions of South Asia.

Rossi said the organization has warehouses located throughout the world stockpiled with relief supplies just waiting to be used. Having those supplies pre-positioned helped OFDA get them here quickly. The most urgent supplies needed in most areas, she said, are plastic sheeting for shelter and water filtration systems.

Getting the relief out is where the U.S. military comes in. Rossi said OFDA is getting the supplies to the region, and the military is using C-130s to fly the aid to distribution locations.

Often one of the first aid organizations on the ground, OFDA resembles one of the U.S. military services, according to Ken Issacs, OFDA director.

“OFDA could be compared to the Marine Corps,” Issacs said. “We’re often the first to respond to disaster and crises around the world.”

A close working relationship between OFDA and the military is typical during humanitarian relief operations, said Army Col. Doug Wallace, a civil affairs officer currently with Combined Support Force 536. While OFDA can bring expertise and supplies to the table, the U.S. military has “depth of staff, and planning, logistical and communications capabilities” to offer, Wallace said.

“We don’t have the logistics or manpower capacity, but we have the expertise,” Issacs said.

Wallace said that just three weeks prior to the tsunamis, members of OFDA briefed Pacific Command headquarters on how the organization operates. Now, he said, that recent information-sharing has made operations here between the two run smoother.

While it’s not clear how long support will be needed here, Issacs said OFDA is prepared for the long haul.

“We’re still assessing what the needs are, and we’re going to act appropriately to those needs,” he said.

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