Going to the epicentre: Canada deploys the Disaster Assistance Response Team to Nepal

By Evelyn Brotherston

A villager and her injured child wait at the doors of a local hospital during a reconnaissance patrol by the DART advance elements team in northern Nepal, on May 2, 2015. (Sgt Yannick Bédard, DND)

A villager and her injured child wait at the doors of a local hospital during a reconnaissance patrol by the DART advance elements team in northern Nepal, on May 2, 2015. (Sgt Yannick Bédard, DND)

On Sunday April 26, one day after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, a group of 42 men and women gathered at CFB Trenton and prepared to deploy to the stricken alpine nation. The assembled crew were members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), Canada’s elite rapid-response squad, capable of deploying anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. Each brought together engineering, medical and logistics personnel from five different bases, and this was the first time they’d be deployed overseas as a team.

DART is designed to respond at the behest of the Canadian government when sudden natural disasters or humanitarian crises occur. It last deployed in November 2013 in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines. But with a rotation cycle of just one year, the current team, selected in October 2014, is comprised of a completely fresh batch of individuals from Kingston, Petawawa, Gagetown, Trenton and Valcartier.

Although they are required to complete individual training, they do get the chance to train together. This includes an annual collective computerized training exercise, as well as an annual field training exercise, in which they train alongside other Canadian Armed Forces personnel.

(DND)

(DND)

The DART team has three main areas of expertise: water purification, primary medical care and engineering assistance. The team brings together a wide range of individuals with multidisciplinary skill sets. It includes field and construction engineers. It also includes medical personnel to provide first aid, set up laboratories, pharmacies and rehydration equipment and provide preventive medicine and limited obstetrics services.

Training is designed to prepare team members to provide these services in harsh conditions. When it comes to working in steep, mountainous terrain like Nepal, however, the current team has no special training. According to the Department of National Defence, with each deployment of DART, new training procedures are implemented as the result of lessons learned while carrying out missions — which means that the lessons learned in Nepal will contribute to the training of future DART rotations.

Master Corporal Sandie Walsh, a DART medical technician, installs a sign to indicate the opening of a Level 1 Care Field medical clinic at Camp SUMITRA. Photo by Cplc Cynthia Wilkinson. (DND)

Master Corporal Sandie Walsh, a DART medical technician, installs a sign to indicate the opening of a Level 1 Care Field medical clinic at Camp SUMITRA. Photo by Cplc Cynthia Wilkinson. (DND)

Currently commanding the team in Nepal is LCol Edward Izzatt, a Canadian Military Engineer who has been serving with the Armed Forces since 1984. His engineering duties, both domestically and abroad, cover the whole spectrum of military service, from unit tactical command at 1 Combat Engineer Regiment in Edmonton to strategic Chief Engineer, Current Operations at NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium. As a general staff and liaison officer, he has been employed by alliance and coalition organizations in Europe, the Middle East and Southwest Asia. His Army institutional posts have included Section Chief for Army Professional Development; Chief Personnel Management and Policies, Army Western Area (J1) and Dean of the Canadian Army Command and Staff College. He is currently the chief engineer at the 1st Canadian Division, Kingston.

As the death toll in Nepal approaches 7,000, officials say that members of DART will continue to be deployed in phases, adjusting their capabilities and personnel based on evolving needs on the ground. Their headquarters serve as the command and control centre for Canadian personnel on the ground, linking together other Canadian departments, as well as the government of Nepal and humanitarian groups operating in the country. The team has set up Forward Operating Base SUMITRA in the Charikot region of Nepal, less than 100km from the capital Kathmandu, where it will help tackle the damage sustained by remote villages in the region.