Newswise — "The ocean is a natural highway, essentially unaffected by hurricane destruction," said Clinton H. Whitehurst Jr., lead author of the report Hurricane Relief from the Sea. "While the sea may be impassable at certain times and locations, it recovers quickly, which isn't always the situation with land transportation systems after a disaster."

Whitehurst is emeritus professor of management and economics and a senior fellow at Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute of Government and Public Affairs, a nonprofit, nonpartisan institute conducting applied research and service in public policy areas.

No matter where a hurricane makes landfall, there are deepwater seaports close to the disaster area that can accept relief supplies and equipment delivered from the sea. A pre-loaded relief ship could reach a disaster area 12 to 36 hours after a storm compared to the three to five days it took for significant relief tonnage to reach New Orleans by land and air following Hurricane Katrina.

Seaports and other maritime assets should play an active, pre-planned role in hurricane recovery efforts, in addition to highway, rail or airlift, according to the report. "That would become extremely important should land or airlift access be cut off," said Whitehurst.

The model for Hurricane Relief from the Sea uses military concepts of a reserve force of ships -- some loaded with military equipment and supplies and based at various ports in the United States and overseas, some empty but maintained in quick break-out status.

The Ready Reserve Force maintained by the U.S. Maritime Administration is a fleet of relatively modern merchant-type ships that can be used in an emergency. When activated, these ships come under the operational control of U.S. Department of Defense's Military Sealift Command. Ready Reserve Force ships were activated in the Somalia peacekeeping operation (1992), in the Haiti Operation Democracy (1994), the Persian Gulf War (1990) and the Iraq War (2003). They have also been activated in support of non-military emergencies.

There are two classes of ships suitable as hurricane relief vessels. Neither one is dependent on on-shore power or dock equipment to load and unload cargo. One type — the roll-on, roll-off — can be quickly loaded and unloaded because it holds wheeled vehicles. A single roll-on, roll-off ship can carry 18-wheel tractor-trailer combinations loaded with food and other types of relief supplies, fire equipment, law enforcement vehicles, ambulances and power and communication repair vehicles. Many Ready Reserve Force ships have or can be fitted with a helicopter capability.

The second type is the break-bulk freighter. Cargo, including containers and wheeled vehicles are stored in the holds or on deck. Containers can be off-loaded onto a dock or directly onto flatbed trucks.

The ships can rely on their own power when power is not available on-shore. They can also be adapted to meet special requirements, such as serving as emergency medical or communications centers, feeding and housing hurricane victims and relief personnel, accommodating rescue helicopters and even supplying power to land-based units.

While the report focuses on hurricanes, policy researchers recognize that ports and other maritime assets also can support other types of disaster relief, such as earthquakes and terrorist attacks on ports or nearby cities.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Hurricane Relief From the Sea, Hurricane Relief From the Sea-Options and Hurricane Relief From the Sea-Summary of Options can be downloaded from Clemson University's Strom Thurmond Institute website:

MEDIA EVENT: The U.S. Maritime Administration, South Atlantic Region, will hold an "open ship" day June 13 in Wilmington, N.C., from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Officials have prepared presentations explaining the relief from the sea concept. Ship's officers will answer technical questions about ship operations.

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