Twitter is aflame with military-types defending #OpRuman, the British response to Hurricane Irma. They parrot the government line, stating that Britain ‘is doing everything it can’, or perhaps use the response in order to measure our ‘might’ against the offerings of other nations. They don’t like any criticism of the UK military response whatsoever (*grumbles* ‘we’re sending a helicopter carrier, what more do you need’). After a series of governments that have consecutively cut the UK forces, this protectionism is understandable, but horribly misguided and counterproductive when it comes to disaster response.
From their armchairs, and amongst the steel hulls of hardware and the beating heart of machismo, they forget the objective of Operation Ruman, and they certainly forget the human futures at stake. Criticism of the British response is not aimed at humiliating the armed forces, it is wholly aimed at making this response better so that it can better serve the needs of the people of the affected areas. Currently, that stems from political pressure from MPs and the media. Whether the current UK response is proportional, whether it was quick enough, and whether it will be effective remains to be seen. That will be assessed in the months and years to come, as disaster experts start to pick apart the response and assess what worked and what didn’t.
There is no doubting the lion-hearted efforts that British troops are currently putting in across the Carribean. Everyone in the UK, in the disaster/humanitarian sector and in the media respects that. We are thankful for their service.
But the vast majority of them are not disaster experts, either, and it is important to recognise that. They are doing great work at the moment, but if that could be improved in the future, that should be looked at. And it will be looked at. Armchair generals on twitter don’t get to suppress that, and neither does the British government. Operation Ruman will be studied by actual experts in their field so that improvements can be made in the future, be in in the terms of the speed and agility of the response, troop placements, types of resources deployed, or more importantly, the work they actually did. It’s going to take many years for these islands to recover, and it is important that they are helped to get on the right trajectory as soon as possible. They won’t necessarily need ‘all the help they can get’, but rather the ‘right help’ in the ‘right areas’.
Ultimately, of course we are all pleased with our armed forces, and the working they are doing out there. You can’t let that pride, however, turn into a pig-headed suppression of any criticism and debate over the response, because the nothing will improve, and the same mistakes will be made over, and over, again. Those potential improvements are so important, and they will genuinely save and change lives in future disaster. Look at how drastically different the US response to Harvey and Irma was in comparison to Katrina, for example.
I’m afraid that if you aren’t an expert in Disaster Risk Reduction & Response, then your opinion carries little weight in this discussion. By all means be proud of our troops doing good work over there- but don’t suppress this vital debate.