NEW U.S. DISASTER AGENCY SETS UP IN MARSALLS

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Proactive approach replaces emergency response

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, April 2, 2010) - The transition from the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency to the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance has brought a change in more than the U.S. agencies that respond to disasters and mitigation needs in the Marshall Islands.

USAID, with its partner group the International Organization for Migration, is focused on pre-planning in advance of possible disasters, has stationed people on-island and will be warehousing a modest supply of disaster response supplies, according to USAID official Bart Deemer, who works at the U.S. Embassy in Majuro.

These are all changes from past U.S. government practice of responding only after a disaster.

He and IOM representative Mike Case briefed the Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Deemer explained that USAID’s goal is to cut the response time in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, which includes having a full time presence in the Marshall Islands.

"In the past, a disaster occurred and then the U.S. responded," said Case. "We’re setting up a plan and will have supplies ready to react more quickly."

A Compact of Free Association between the Marshall Islands and the U.S. includes disaster assistance provisions for this western Pacific nation. The U.S. provides a range of other health and education funding, underwriting about 60 percent of the country’s national budget.

Deemer said they are working with the Marshall Islands emergency management committee on contingency planning and preparedness. In recent weeks, they’ve been discussing impacts of the current El Niño drought on the country, Deemer said.

Deemer explained that the system for triggering a U.S. disaster assistance response has not changed. Once the Marshall Islands president declares a disaster, a request can be transmitted to the U.S. Ambassador seeking a U.S. declaration of a disaster, which paves the way for support.

That was the same system used when FEMA was the U.S. disaster response agency. "It’s the same model as FEMA used, just organizationally it’s with USAID now," Deemer said.

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