#CycloneIdai Affects Over a Million People in #Mozambique, #Zimbabwe & #Malawi

 

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Ethiopian Airlines #302 Crashes Near Addis, Boeing 737 MAX 8 Grounded Around the World

 

Emergency Messages During Government Shutdown

A tsunami hit the coastal areas around the Sunda Strait in Indonesia (between the islands of Java and Sumatra) on December 22, 2018. It affected the Pandeglang, South Lampung, and Serang districts (as well as the resort area of Anyer). As of this writing, the tsunami death toll is now 373, with 128 missing and 1,459 injured.

The location of the tsunami is about 108 kilometers from the capital city of Jakarta. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta (with constituent posts in Surabaya, Medan, and a Consular Agency in Bali) issued a Message to U.S. Citizens: U.S. Embassy Jakarta – Tsunami on the West Coast of Banten and Lampung on Sun, 23 Dec 2018.

The Embassy Alert to U.S. citizens provides the following actions to take and contact information for those requiring assistance:

Actions to Take:

  • Carefully consider travel plans and avoid nonessential travel to tsunami affected areas.
  • Review the Travel Advisory for Indonesia
  • Review information about what to do in the event of a tsunami.
  • Notify friends and family of your well-being.
  • Review information from the Government of Indonesia’s agency for disaster managementhere (Indonesian language only) and here.
  • For regular updates, follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.

Assistance:  

The Alert message is currently on travel.state.gov and the embassy’s website, but it is not pushed on to social media due to the government shutdown. The State Department’s deputy spox says that they “are not aware of any U.S. citizens directly affected, but stand ready to assist as needed.”

The Alert message suggests that for regular updates people should “follow the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya on Twitter and Facebook and the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta at Twitter and Facebook.” But those feed are no longer updated regularly due to the lapse in appropriation.

Our Foreign Service posts in Jakarta say “visit @StateDept for updates.” We note of only two official tweets to-date: one tweet from @TravelGov calling the tsunami a “Weather Alert” (though tsunami can be caused by weather when the atmospheric pressure changes very rapidly, this tsunami is believed to have been triggered by an underwater landslide caused by the eruption of the nearby Anak Krakatau volcano), and one tweet from the State Department through the deputy spox. While the multiple deaths and injuries in the Indonesia tsunami did not appear to include American citizens, disasters and calamities (besides the one unfolding in Washington, D.C.) could happen anytime.

See US Embassy Jakarta’s tweet:

One of the last few tweets sent by US Consulate Surabaya was about the tsunami before it announced that its Twitter feed will not be updated due to the lapse in appropriation.

The former strategic planner for the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) cited a policy cable from 2013, adopted formally as guidance in the Foreign Affairs Handbook which explicitly states that overseas missions using social media “should continue to do so in a crisis.” https://fam.state.gov/FAM/10FAH01/10FAH010060.html …. He rightfully noted that we are at an era when gov’t communication via social media is expected, particularly from a US embassy during a crisis affecting its host country. We agree that the use of social media to facilitate emergency communications with the public must be a prime consideration, rather than an afterthought. Posts’s feeds were the first place we looked up when we saw the tsunami alert online. We are sure we’re not the only one looking for information.

Just as we were about to post this, Reuters is reporting that Italy’s Mount Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted on December 24, and causing the closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast. The social media accounts of US Embassy in Rome and its constituent posts in Florence and Naples have not been updated since the government shutdown took effect on December 22. Consulate Milan appears to be updating with holiday tweets as of nine hours ago. There does not appear to be any update from @StateDept concerning the Etna eruption.

Pompeo Talks Up Saudi “Investment” in Yemen, and USG’s “Additional” $131M Assistance #ExcludingArms

 

On November 28, the Secretary of State told the world that “Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relive suffering in Yemen.” Pretty soon,  Saudi Arabia’s spokesman would not have a job anymore.

The Guardian reported that in 2017, the Yemen appeal for $2.5bn was only 73% funded, but that the needs have intensified in a country battered since 2015 by a Saudi-led military offensive aimed at repelling Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. In April this year, during a UN donor conference for people affected by war in Yemen – labelled as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” – has received pledges of more than $2bn, close to half of which is promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key protagonists in the conflict, according to the same report. Click here for the OCHA page for pledges and paid contributions for Yemen.

On October 24, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller re-issued a disaster declaration for the ongoing complex emergency in Yemen for FY 2018 due to “continued humanitarian needs resulting from the complex emergency and the impact of the country’s political and economic crises on vulnerable populations.”  USAID’s November 9, 2018 Factsheet on Yemen Disaster Assistance indicates that the United States humanitarian funding for the Yemen response in FY2018 is $566,273,269 (includes funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM)).  Secretary Pompeo’s tweet on November 28 says that the United States is providing an “additional” $131 million in food assistance to Yemen.

According to the CRS, since March 2015, the U.S.-trained Saudi military has used U.S.-origin weaponry, U.S. logistical assistance, and shared intelligence in support of military operations in Yemen. Excerpt:

In May 2017, President Trump signaled a continuation and deepening of bilateral defense cooperation, announcing completed and proposed defense sales during his visit to Riyadh with a potential value of more than $110 billion. The sales include cases that the Obama Administration had proposed and notified to Congress, cases developed under the Obama Administration on which Congress had been preliminarily consulted, and new sales that remain under development.
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The United States’ role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen has evolved over time. 65 At present, it consists of some intelligence sharing, aerial refueling, and the deployment of advisers to Saudi Arabia for border security and anti-ballistic missile purposes.66 In his latest biannual War Powers letters to Congress on the deployment of U.S. forces abroad in combat operations (P.L. 93-148), President Trump informed Congress about ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen and stated that U.S. forces in noncombat roles were providing “military advice and limited information, logistics, and other support to regional forces combatting the Houthi insurgency.”

So, on one hand, we’re supporting the side that’s indiscriminately bombing hospitals, school buses and children, and on the other hand, we’re spending millions of dollars for food and humanitarian assistance to help those who are bombed and starved.  Also, our Secretary of Swagger did not just announced the additional millions in food assistance but also cited “our generous example” in “galvanizing humanitarian assistance.” When is this going up on Instagram, people?

By the way, the most recent USAID/OFDA official said “no amount of aid money can prevent this famine” and that absent massive political pressure on the Saudi, this is just “window dressing.” 

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | Updated September 21, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

ALSO THIS:

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Finns and Friends #RakeTheForest For Trump’s California Fire Prevention Moment

 

After you’re done laughing out loud, please consider (if you can) helping the displaced people in California who lost loved ones and homes in the wildfires.  Below are links to a few groups. Thank you!

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Trump-Putin Show: A Shocker to the World, But “Fabulous …Better Than Super” to Russians

 

The one-on-one summit meeting between President Trump and Russian President Putin finally happened today in Helsinki with no American officials in attendance as observers or notetakers, only interpreters.  The interpreter for the USG side is Marina Gross.

After a whole morning trapped in the vomitorium, we finally surfaced for air and some coffee. That joint press conference frankly was more bonkers than the SBC show we watched last night. After picking up our jaw from the floor, we saw that the Department of Justice this morning also unsealed a criminal complaint in the District of Columbia charging Maria Butina, a Russian national residing in Washington, D.C. with conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States.

I’m still sick to my stomach. We’ll remember this Helsinki moment in the future.

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Tillerson’s @StateDept Conducts First Large Scale Evacuation of U.S. Citizens #StMaarten

Posted: 6:21 am ET
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The U.S. Embassy in Haiti was initially placed on  authorized voluntary departure for non-emergency staff and family members due to Hurricane Irma on Tuesday, September 5. By the time the Travel Warning went up, the language changed to authorized departure for U.S. government employees and their family members (see U.S. Embassy Haiti Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #HurricaneIrma (Updated) Embassy Dominican Republic Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #Irma.  U.S. Embassy Cuba Now on ‘Authorized Departure’ For Employees/Family Members #IrmaU.S. Embassy Bahamas Now on ‘Ordered Departure’ For “Non-Essential” Staff/Family Members #Irma).  We were aware of two chartered flights announced – one from Santo Domingo which departed on 9/6, and one from Nassau which departed on 9/7.

As far as we are aware, neither Secretary Tilleron nor his inner circle has done evacuations previously. The office that typically would oversee evacuations, funding, logistics, etc. is the under secretary for management, a position that has remained vacant (the announced nominee will have his confirmation hearing tomorrow, 9/12).

On September 8, CBS News reported on criticisms over the evacuation efforts of the State Department, the first evacuation involving private Americans. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had reportedly been rescued from St. Maarten but media reports say nearly 5,000 Americans still remain at St. Maarten after Irma.

Four diplomatic posts are currently being evacuated, although progress to help Americans on the ground has been slow. Veterans of the department say that a task force could have helped manage the disaster. A task force was only set up Friday morning, days after Irma hit portions of the Caribbean. While the State Department says that is consistent with previous practice, criticism has still come to the fore.
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As of Saturday afternoon, the State Department had coordinated with the Department of Defense to assist over 500 American citizens with air evacuations from St. Martin, beginning with those needing urgent medical care. As of Saturday evening, 1,200 Americans had been rescued from St. Martin/St. Maarten, according to the U.S. State Department.

The latest from U.S. Consulate General Curacao (Sitrep #6) as follows (note that there is no consular post in St. Maarten, which is under the consular district of Curacao, but located in a separate island, see map here):

The Department of State is working with the Department of Defense to continue evacuation flights on September 11. U.S. citizens desiring to leave should proceed to the airport to arrive by noon on Monday carrying their U.S. passport or other proof of U.S. citizenship and identity. Passengers may be allowed carry on one small bag. Medications and any other essential items should be carried on your person. Note, passengers arriving at St Maarten Airport should expect long wait times. There is no running water at the airport and very limited shelter.

The Department of State has received information that Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship near the port of Sint Maarten has departed. Contact the cruise line directly with any questions at stormhelp@rccl.com.

U.S. citizens in need of evacuation on Sint Maarten should shelter in place until Monday, listen to 101.1 FM radio for updates.

U.S. citizens in Dutch St. Maarten, Anguilla, Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, or St. Eustatius are asked to visit Task Force Alert: https://tfa.state.gov/ and select “2017 Hurricane Irma.”

U.S. Citizens in French St. Martin are asked to contact U.S. Embassy Bridgetown in Barbados: https://bb.usembassy.gov/news-events/  or direct link here: https://bb.usembassy.gov/emergency-message-u-s-citizens-british-virgin-islands-assistance-aftermath-hurricane-irma/.

AND NOW THIS —

POTUS Tweets About Wall During #Harvey, Reminds Us of Mexico’s Help During Katrina

Posted: 2:46 am  ET
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Why Tillerson Not Sullivan Needs the Town Hall: Morale Is Bad, “S” is Accountable

Posted: 3:01 pm PT
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On August 8, while Secretary Tillerson remains on travel (seen in Thailand with Foreign Minister Pramudwinai in Bangkok), Deputy Secretary John Sullivan had a town hall with employees at the State Department.

According to Politico, the State Department’s No. 2 official assured staffers Tuesday that plans to restructure the department would take their concerns into full account, comparing the coming changes to U.S. military reforms following the Vietnam War. The report notes that his “reference to post-Vietnam reforms in the U.S. military suggests major changes are afoot; the military saw major changes in organization, doctrine, personnel policy, equipment and training.”

While it certainly is a good development that employees were able to hear directly from the deputy secretary and he did take and answer questions, we remain convinced that Secretary Tillerson himself needs to do the town hall, not his deputy. Secretary Tillerson often talks about accountability as one of his three core values, one that he asked his employees to adopt.

Well, morale is bad. And S is accountable. Folks need to see him and hear him address their concerns.

Had Secretary Tillerson and his inner circle expended the necessary time and energy to get to know the building and its people during the transition before jumping into reorganization, they would not be battling bad press every day six months into Tillerson’s tenure.

Politico also reported that toward the end of the town hall, Mr. Sullivan “urge State staffers not to believe everything they read in the press about what is happening in the agency.” 

Okay! So that’s funny.

This was going to be our one post on the town hall, but we saw that Mr. Sullivan had now given an on-the-record briefing to members of the press regarding his town hall. So, we will do a separate post dedicated to Mr. Sullivan’s town hall.  While still working on that, we have three points to make quickly.

One, the press did not invent these stories. State Department folks in and out of service are talking to media outlets. We’ve never seen these many sources talking to the press in all the years that we’ve covered Foggy Bottom. The press reports these stories, of course, some with less restraint than others, and some without context; that’s just a couple of the complaints we’re heard. Is this healthy for an organization that is already undergoing stresses brought about by the re-organization? Obviously not. And Foggy Bottom is practically a rumor machine these days.  But there’s a reason for that.  If folks are talking, that’s because management is not doing a good job communicating with the employees. Heck, we have more folks reading this blog this year, and it’s not because we’re irresistibly entertaining.

(Hello to our 500,000th visitor this year! We’re glad to see you here!)

Two, there’s a lot that the Tillerson Front Office is doing that we don’t understand. And that’s okay, we’re not privy to their thinking or their plans. And since the State Department’s Public Affairs shop has put us on its shit list (you know, for laughing out loud during April Fools’), there’s no way to get an official word from the Building.  If we’re using our own resources without official comments from Foggy Bottom to help explain whatever it is they’re doing, just know that we did not ask them to put us on their shit list. That was perfectly voluntary on their part.

So anyway, when people — who have dedicated their lives to this organization for years, who have gone through other transitions and survived, who have served under Democratic and Republican administrations and supported the policies of those administrations when they were in office (as they’ve affirmed when they were appointed to these jobs) — when those folks throw up their arms in frustration and distress, and they, too, do not understand, then we have to sit up and pay attention. It doesn’t help that Secretary Tillerson and his immediate people, when they do talk uses descriptions of what they’re doing as if they’re in an alternate universe. “No preconceived notions,” “employee-led reorganization” “no chaos” — we do not need to be a genius to recognize that those are talking points intended to shape their preferred narrative.

Three, the notion that Secretary Tillerson and his people arrived at Foggy Bottom where everything is broken, and they are there to fix it is kinda funny.  They did not know what they did not know, but that did not deter them from doing stuff, which broke more stuff. Perhaps the most substantial reinvention of the State Department in modern times, about systems, and work, and people, happened during Colin Powell’s tenure. That happened because 1) Powell was wise enough to recognize the value of the career corps; and 2) he brought in people who were professionals, who knew how to work with people, and — let’s just say this out loud — people who did not have atrocious manners.

When Secretary Powell showed up in Foggy Bottom in January 2001, he told State Department employees, “I am not coming in just to be the foreign policy adviser to the President,… I’m coming in as the leader and the manager of this Department.”  The building and its people followed Secretary Powell’s lead because they could see that his actions were aligned with his words. And of course, Secretary Powell did not start his tenure by treating career people with 30-year service like trash by giving them 48 hours to clear out their desks.

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GAO Cites Gaps in @StateDept’s Crisis and Evacuation Preparedness for Overseas Posts

Posted: 3:11 am ET
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The GAO recently released its review of the State Department policies and procedures for evacuating overseas posts. The report notes that from October 2012 to September 2016, the State Department evacuated overseas post staff and family members from 23 overseas posts.  The evacuation was in response to various threats, such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. Overseas posts undergoing evacuations generally have three types of movement: authorized departure (voluntary), ordered departure (mandatory) of specific post staff or family members, and suspended operations (closure).

The report also note that in fiscal years 2010 through 2016, State’s reported costs associated with evacuating from posts on 53 occasions were roughly $25.5 million.

“According to State officials, costs associated with evacuations varied due to several factors, including the number of post staff and family members evacuated. In fiscal year 2014, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Maseru in Lesotho were roughly $20,000, while in the same year, costs associated with evacuating Embassy Sana’a in Yemen were roughly $1.9 million.”

Certainly, a big chunk of that cost has to come from security and transportation. Below are the significant gaps cited by the GAO in the State Department’s crisis and evac preparedness:

U.S. personnel working at overseas posts, along with the family members who accompany them, face a range of threats to their safety and security—such as terrorism, civil unrest, and natural disasters. To help protect them, State has established processes to prepare overseas posts for crises and to conduct evacuations. However, State has significant gaps in implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations at overseas posts.

➥Overseas posts are not completing required annual Emergency Action Plans (EAP) updates

➥ Diplomatic Security is not identifying incomplete updates in its Emergency Action Plan (EAP) reviews

➥ The EAPs themselves are not readily usable during emergency situations

➥ Although regular drilling is a critical crisis preparedness task, very few overseas posts have completed all required annual drills

➥ Because overseas posts are not submitting required after-action reports containing lessons learned following evacuations, the State Department is missing important opportunities to identify challenges and best practices and to make changes to prepare for future evacuations from overseas posts.

The report concludes that “while State has taken initial actions— including some actions in response to our ongoing work—to improve implementation of its preparedness processes for crises and evacuations, significant shortcomings exist.” It also says that “while each of these gaps is of concern, taken together, they increase the risk that post staff are not sufficiently prepared to handle crisis and emergency situations.”

 Other details excerpted from the report:

Late Annual Updates:

In fiscal year 2016, about 1 in 12 overseas posts were late in completing required annual updates. On average, these posts were about 6 months late in completing their EAP updates. For fiscal year 2016, the list of posts that were late in completing their annual EAP updates included 7 posts rated high or critical in political violence or terrorism.

DS Does Not Fully Review Key Sections of EAPs Submitted by Overseas Posts

The FAH directs DS to review each EAP submitted by an overseas post during the annual EAP review cycle to ensure that EAPs include updated information needed by State headquarters and other agencies to monitor or assist in responding to emergency situations at posts.22 To conduct these annual reviews, DS Emergency Plans Review Officers in Washington use a list of 27 key EAP sections that the Emergency Plans Review Office has determined should be updated each year.23 According to DS officials, Emergency Plans Review Officers spot check these 27 key EAP sections to review and approve each EAP. In addition, DS officials told us that Review Officers consider forms included in key EAP sections that they spot check to meet the annual update requirement if the forms were updated up to 3 years prior to the check.24

DS does not document its annual EAP review process. We requested the results of the Emergency Plans Review Officer reviews, including data on who conducted them and what deficiencies, if any, were found. Federal internal control standards call for agency management to evaluate performance and hold individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities.25 However, DS was unable to provide copies of the reviews completed because the Emergency Plans Review Officers do not document these results.

Emergency Action Plans Are Viewed As Lengthy and Cumbersome Documents That Are Not Readily Usable in Emergency Situations

While officials from State headquarters and all six posts we met with told us that EAPs are not readily usable in emergency situations, officials at five of the six posts we met with also said there is value for post staff to participate in the process of updating EAPs to prepare for emergencies. The process of updating the EAP, they noted, includes reviewing applicable checklists and contact lists before an emergency occurs, which can help post staff be better prepared in the event of an emergency. Officials at two of the six posts we met with also observed that EAPs contain large amounts of guidance because it is easier for responsible staff at post to complete required updates to their specific sections if all the guidance they need is directly written into each EAP.

The GAO reviewers were told that EAPs are often more than 800 pages long. “Our review of a nongeneralizable sample of 20 EAPs confirmed this; the 20 EAPs in our sample ranged from 913 to 1,356 pages long,” the report said.

One other footnote says that “while each major section, annex, and appendix of an EAP had its own table of contents, the full EAP lacked a single, comprehensive table of contents or index.”

A new system sometime this year?

The State Department is reportedly in the process of developing a new electronic system for overseas posts to draft and update their EAPs to address issues with the current system, according to State headquarters officials. According to the report, the State Department plans to launch the new system in the second half of 2017.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process …

The GAO reviewers talk about lessons not learned:

We learned of several challenges that posts faced in different evacuations in discussions with officials from the six posts with whom we met. Different posts mentioned various challenges, including disorganized evacuation logistics and transportation, unclear communication with local staff, confusion surrounding the policy for evacuating pets, problems with shipment and delivery of personal effects, difficulty tracking the destination of staff who were relocated, poor communication with senior State leadership regarding the post’s evacuation status, difficulties getting reimbursement for lodging or personal expenses related to the evacuation, and other similar challenges.

Absent a functioning lessons learned process, State’s ability to identify lessons learned and to share best practices from staff that have experienced evacuations may be constrained.

Back in 2009, Rep Howard Berman sponsored H.R. 2410 during the 111th Congress to provide for the establishment of a Lessons Learned Center for the State Department and USAID under the Under Secretary for Management.  That bill made no specific provision as to staff composition of the Center or its funding, and it also died in committee (H.R. 2410: Lessons Learned Center, Coming Soon?).

In 2016, the State Department and the Foreign Service Institute marked the opening (reportedly after two years of preparation) of its Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy. Then D/Secretary Tony Blinken said that the Center ensures “that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.” Some media outlet called it a ‘lessons learned’ center but its aim is on the study and analysis of diplomatic best practices to study how to effectively apply policy.

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