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Corporation of Delta - Lunch and Learn

Canadian Forces: Helping in Haiti
Major Dave McQueen
Commanding Officer, 1st Canadian Division Headquarters
7.03 MB 
The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) and Operation HESTIA

    Canadian Forces: Helping in Haiti

By: Larry Pearce 

On October 15th 2010, EPICC was very pleased to be able to provide its members with a special briefing by Major Dave McQueen, the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) Commanding Officer, 1st Canadian Division, Headquarters. The following is a summary of Major McQueen’s presentation. 

DART was formed as a high readiness unit for Canada – not just to respond to disasters. The role of DART is to provide a quick response to stabilize the situation, to render first-aid, provide potable water, light engineering, to provide protection, support the community and to assist Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other International aid. DART is self-sufficient and brings its own command and control communication equipment.  

It was founded in 1996 and since then it has responded five times to Honduras in 1998 (hurricane); Turkey in 1999 (earthquake); Sri Lanka in 2005 (tsunami/earthquake); to Pakistan in 2005 (earthquake); and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. DART was prepositioned to assist in Myanmar; however, the Myanmar government did not allow outside assistance to enter the country and so it was never actually deployed. 

The Earthquake 

Your browser may not support display of this image. The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck at 1653 hrs on January 12, 2010. The epicentre was located close to Port-au-Prince and the city was severely damaged. Most of Haiti’s nine million people live close to Port-Au-Prince. (80% of the Haitian population live below the poverty line.) 

Port facilities were destroyed, the airport was non-functioning and there was no air traffic control. The UN HQ was destroyed and the Head of the UN in Haiti was killed along with 200,000 Haitians There was a poor road network to start with and now many parts were destroyed; land lines were almost non-existent (however, they had cellular communications), and the power grid was severely impacted  

This had a horrendous impact on Haiti, where many buildings were of poor construction. Haiti had not experienced a major earthquake since 1770 and  

Within hours of the earthquake DART members were on alert and by 2100 hrs the orders came for deployment. By 1620 hrs, January 13th,, DART was on the ground, less than 24 hours since the earthquake struck. DART consisted of 45 personnel: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, engineers and light search and rescue personnel plus a protection force. By 2300 hrs the team had made their way to the Canadian Embassy in Port-Au-Prince. One of their first tasks was to evacuate Canadian citizens back to Canada - they successfully evacuated 4,600 Canadians. 

Following their arrival, DART was deployed 7 kilometres east of Jacmel (see map above). The distance between Jacmel and Port-au-Prince is only 45 kilometres long (the road was not direct but followed a westerly/southern route.) However, due to the existing poor road network, compounded by the earthquake damage, the trip took 4.5 hours. The easterly route took 12.5 hours (the road ended prior to Jacmel and troops had to follow a dirt trail). Jacmel was also severely hit by the earthquake: 40,000 lived in the city but another 173,000 lived in the region around the city. In and around Jacmel, 400 were killed, 3,000 homes were destroyed, 7,500 homes were damaged and the hospital was destroyed. 

The living conditions for DART members were austere - they faced heat, humidity, insects, and rain but ultimately provided and incredible service to the Haitians. Fortunately they were able to situate their camp in an undamaged area - the land was owned by an American who gave full access to use his land as DART saw fit, and did not charge any rent. DART ate only Canadian Forces rations and drank their own water. The weather was very humid and hot (rained mostly at night). Communications were provided by a good cell network and BlackBerry and satellite phone.  

Ultimately, Operation HESTIA deployed 2,046 Canadian forces personnel; provided 1,000,000 pounds of relief supplies, treated 22,000 patients, produced nearly 3, 000,000 litres of potable water and re-opened the highway between Port-Au-Prince and Jacmel. Local people often refused to drink the purified water produced by DART because they didn’t like the taste and thus preferred the contaminated water, which they were used to (note that there is currently a cholera outbreak in Haiti). The medical platoon of 45 persons (three teams) treated 10,000 patients - 7,500 at the clinic and 2,500 were transported via helicopter to hospitals.  

Other Canadian government departments that were in Haiti included: Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canadian International Development Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, RCMP, Public Safety Canada, Canadian Forces and Search and Rescue. The Joint Task Force included land support, including a field hospital, maritime support (i.e., HMCS Athabaska and HMCS Halifax), and air support (helicopters, C-130, C-114). 

The security platoon of forty soldiers was deployed to protect the DART team, VIP visits (including the visit of the Governor-General of Canada), food distribution at camps and the mobile DART members. The engineering section consisted of 35 soldiers who were responsible for water purification, assisting in reestablishing the electrical grid and sewage system. The engineers super-chlorinated the city wells, built 45 latrines (135 seats), and built two orphanage shelters - employing local Haitians while providing cash for work completed. 

“Cluster” meetings were held to help coordinate the various international governmental and aid agencies and NGOs. These meetings included Canadians, UN personnel, representatives from Cuba, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, as well as Doctors without Borders and locals. The airfield was overwhelmed with air traffic – no air traffic control was in place, as a result planes often circled for hours before they could land. The US finally established air traffic control on the third day.  


Currency was the Haitian gourde but US dollars were accepted everywhere. One major problem was that the banks were closed because there was no power. However, power couldn’t be restored because there wasn’t access to funds to pay for the restoration! There was a very weak local government in place and as a result decisions by local government took a very long time.  

Finally – why was it so bad? There were no building codes; construction techniques were questionable (e.g., the concrete was poor quality – coarse aggregate and no rebar); there was no ambulance or fire capacity and a substandard hospital capacity.  

DART left 60 days after they arrived having helped thousands and leaving a local population sad to see them leave. Well done Canadian Forces.