The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is a multidisciplinary military organization designed to deploy on short notice anywhere in the world in response to situations ranging from natural disasters to complex humanitarian emergencies. It is one component of Canada’s toolkit to respond to natural disasters abroad.
The DART is equipped to conduct emergency relief operations for up to approximately 40 days to bridge the gap until national and international aid agencies arrive to provide long-term help. Working alongside local authorities and other international organizations and agencies, DART acts as a stabilization measure until regular services are restored.
Around the world, many governmental and non-governmental organizations deliver expert humanitarian aid programs and services. The DART does not compete with these organizations; it complements their activities.
Concept of operations
The DART deploys only to “permissive” environments — that is, only to regions where the government supports its presence and it will not face organized resistance to its operations.
Through the Canada First Defence Strategy, the Government if Canada is committed to doing its part on the international stage and ensuring the safety and security of those who are in need.
The primary responsibilities of the DART are:
- To stabilize the primary effects of the disaster in co-operation with national and regional governments and non-governmental agencies;
- To prevent rapid onset of the secondary effects of the disaster; and
- To gain time for national and international humanitarian aid organizations to deploy to the affected area and prepare to deliver long-term recovery programs.
The DART is not designed to provide first response services, such as search and rescue or emergency trauma care. Instead, it can be useful where the capabilities of local governments and humanitarian agencies to provide primary health care and potable water are overstretched.
The DART serves three critical needs in emergencies:
- primary medical care;
- engineering help; and
- production of safe drinking water.
Initiating a DART mission
The DART deploys outside Canada only in response to a formal request for its services either from the affected country or from an international organization such as the United Nations.
The Government of Canada bases its decisions on deploying the DART on advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada , in close partnership with core departments and agencies, including the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Privy Council Office (PCO).
DART equipment, stores, and supplies are stored at 8 Wing Trenton and are maintained for immediate deployment by a small supporting staff.
DART personnel, who belong to Canadian Armed Forces units across Canada, train together regularly and keep themselves ready to mobilize quickly when called for a deployment.
The DART has the following main elements:
- DART Headquarters (about 45 CAF members): Drawn mostly from the 1st Canadian Division Headquarters (with about 30 CAF members) and the Canadian Forces Joint Signal Regiment (about 13 CAF members) in Kingston, Ontario, DART HQ is the link to the governments of Canada and the affected nation, and to partner organizations such as the U.N. and non-governmental humanitarian aid agencies. Under the direction of the Commanding Officer, DART HQ is responsible for determining and co-ordinating all the unit’s work in the theatre of operations. DART HQ is supported directly by a Military Police Section of two CAF members.
- DART Company Headquarters (about 10 CAF members): “DART Company” is the main body of the DART, comprising Engineer Troop, Medical Platoon, Logistics Platoon and Defence & Security Platoon. DART Coy HQ provides command and control for its sub-units and sets their tasking priorities; it also provides a separate command team that can direct a split operation if required.
- Engineer Troop (about 40 CAF members): Engineer Troop includes both field engineers (in Water Supply Section, Heavy Equipment Section and Field Engineering Section) and construction engineers, to provide limited utilities and vertical construction services. With its Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), Water Supply Section can purify up to 50,000 litres per day of safe drinking water, provided in bulk to the medical aid station and for distribution to local residents. Once the DART camp is established, the other sections of Engineer Troop undertake other basic construction and engineer tasks required to support humanitarian aid operations.
- Medical Platoon (about 45 CAF members): The members of Medical Platoon operate a medical aid station, a small tented facility offering laboratory, pharmacy, rehydration, preventive medicine and limited obstetrics services. It does not provide surgical or trauma care services. The health care centre can serve 250 to 300 outpatients and 10 inpatients per day, depending on their needs.
- Logistics Platoon (about 20 CAF members): Logistics Platoon provides the DART with almost all its support and sustainment services, such as transport, equipment and vehicle maintenance, and supply.
- Defence and Security Platoon (about 45 CAF members): Defence and Security Platoon is the DART’s source of security and general labour services.
The origins of the DART lie in Operation PASSAGE, the 1994 deployment of 2 Field Ambulance from Petawawa, Ontario, to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps faced an outbreak of cholera. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, the medical contingent did not arrive until after the epidemic had passed its peak. Consequently, the Canadian government recognized the need for a rapid-response capability to provide effective humanitarian aid.
DART deployments to date
Operation HESTIA (13 January–31 March 2010) in Haiti
Within 24 hours of the 2010 earthquake, the first reconnaissance elements of the DART landed in Port-au-Prince as part of Canada’s whole-of government response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti, on January 12, 2010. At its peak, approximately 2050 CAF personnel deployed in support of Operation HESTIA. Operation HESTIA included a task force, two Royal Canadian Navy ships, strategic and tactical airlift, a field hospital, an infantry battalion with engineering assets, and the DART. The DART deployed to Jacmel and purified 2,890,988 litres of drinking water, and provided medical treatment to 22,000 patients.
Operation PLATEAU (11 October–1 December 2005) in Pakistan
The Government of Canada deployed the DART to heavily damaged regions in Pakistan in October 2005, following a massive earthquake. The DART distributed 500 tonnes of humanitarian aid supplies, purified and distributed 3,811,535 litres of drinking water, and provided medical treatment to 11,782 people.
Operation STRUCTURE (30 December 2004–19 February 2005) in Sri Lanka
Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the DART was sent to the Ampara area of Sri Lanka. This region of about 600,000 people was one of the worst affected, with an estimated 10,400 killed and another 180,000 displaced. The DART medical teams saw more than 7,620 patients while engineers produced nearly three million-and-a-half litres of drinking water and transported more than 70,000 people across a local waterway.
Operation TORRENT (24 August–25 September 1999) in Turkey
On August 17, 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale struck northwestern Turkey, collapsing thousands of buildings and damaging much of the area's infrastructure. The Turkish government estimated that 15,765 people had been killed, 24,940 were injured, about 30,000 were missing, and more than 500,000 were homeless. The DART deployed to Serdivan, Turkey, on August 24 to provide humanitarian assistance, focusing on medical aid and potable water. A medical aid station treated more than 5,000 people, including 260 psychological casualties. Three water purification units produced more than 2.5 million litres of water, most of which was distributed by truck throughout the Serdivan and Adapazari areas; about 200,000 litres were distributed to the neediest people in one-litre sealed plastic bags.
Operation CENTRAL (November–December 1998) in Honduras
When Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in late 1998, it killed at least 11,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless. Flooding was a major source of trouble, and outbreaks of water-borne diseases, especially cholera, were reported in many areas. Canada contributed the DART, which deployed to La Cieba, Honduras with 180 personnel organized in medical, engineering, logistics and security sections between November and December 1998.