A Mission with Mercy: A Unique U.S. Partnership for Aiding Tsunami Victims; Learn Firsthand How the U.S. Navy Entered into a Historic Partnership with One of the World's Premier Humanitarian Organizations, Project HOPE, to Provide the Medical Staff Needed for the Relief Effort in Indonesia

By Kissane, Jonathan M. | The Public Manager, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

A Mission with Mercy: A Unique U.S. Partnership for Aiding Tsunami Victims; Learn Firsthand How the U.S. Navy Entered into a Historic Partnership with One of the World's Premier Humanitarian Organizations, Project HOPE, to Provide the Medical Staff Needed for the Relief Effort in Indonesia


Kissane, Jonathan M., The Public Manager


On December 26, 2004, a major earthquake off the coast of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, dealt a horrific blow to the province of Aceh and its capital, Banda Aceh. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami, a tidal wave that surged several kilometers inland, erasing nearly all structures in its path with a fast-moving wall of seawater, muck, and debris that inundated people and structures. Within minutes, over 100,000 people had died and hundreds of thousands were homeless. Satellite photographs of Banda Aceh after the tsunami showed a coastal area wiped clean of buildings, trees, and signs of human life. Further from the shoreline, buildings lay collapsed and buried in the debris swept inland from the ruined coast. Standing pools of water pocketed the landscape, and fishing boats, barges, and other watercraft lay scattered across the murky terrain where they had been deposited by the sea.

Banda Aceh was among the most devastated areas of the major regional catastrophe that struck Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, killing over 250,000 people. As the world began to understand the magnitude of this tragedy, countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) began mobilizing for relief operations. Germany and Australia were among the first nations to respond, deploying military medical units into Banda Aceh. They joined a multinational effort, which included countries such as Japan, Korea, and Singapore, and relief organizations, including the International Red Cross, World Health Organization, and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Operation Unified Assistance and Project HOPE

Within hours of the tsunami, U.S. military capabilities were dispatched to the aid of affected countries, including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group. The U.S. Navy and Department of Defense also evaluated whether one of the Navy's two hospital ships should be deployed to provide medical assistance to the region, and on December 31, the USNS Mercy was alerted for imminent deployment. Within five days, the Mercy set sail from San Diego on a thirty-day voyage that would take it to the coast of Indonesia, where it would relieve the Abraham Lincoln. The name for this humanitarian mission was Operation Unified Assistance (OUA).

In deploying the Mercy, the Navy also entered into a historic partnership with one of the world's premier humanitarian organizations, Project HOPE, to provide a substantial portion of the medical staff required to operate the Mercy's medical treatment facility (MTF). Founded in 1958, Project HOPE advances health care around the world through health education programs and humanitarian assistance. Project HOPE used its contacts with medical associations and major medical institutions, as well as advertisements in medical publications and on the Internet, to recruit the health care professionals needed to staff the Mercy. Over 3,000 applications were received, from which about 200 were selected to serve in two 30-day rotations of about 100 personnel each. These included physicians, dentists, nurses, optometrists, social workers, nutritionists, and other clinical specialists from across the United States. Project HOPE ensured that all health care providers selected were appropriately licensed and credentialed in their specialty.

The Mercy and Comfort

The Mercy and its sister ship, the USNS Comfort, are among the largest ships in the Navy, second in size only to the aircraft carriers. They are oil supertankers that were reconfigured in the 1980s to provide casualty care in the event of major theater conflicts during the cold war. These hospital ships have twelve operating rooms, one hundred intensive care beds, a full radiology suite, including computerized tomography (CT), and the capacity to care for up to 1,000 patients when fully staffed. Each has a flight deck that can accommodate the military's largest helicopters and is connected by elevators to a cavernous emergency department designed to receive and care for dozens of casualties at a time. …

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A Mission with Mercy: A Unique U.S. Partnership for Aiding Tsunami Victims; Learn Firsthand How the U.S. Navy Entered into a Historic Partnership with One of the World's Premier Humanitarian Organizations, Project HOPE, to Provide the Medical Staff Needed for the Relief Effort in Indonesia
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