Keen Recounts Time in Haiti

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Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen, commander of U.S. military relief efforts in post-earthquake Haiti visited campus Nov. 11 -- Veterans Day. PHOTO: Phillip Spears

In less than 50 seconds, approximately 200,000 people died.

A nondescript auditorium at Goizueta Business School briefly held its breath as Army Lt. Gen. Ken Keen recited the statistic — the horrific nature of January’s earthquake in the tiny Caribbean nation of Haiti.

Keen spoke at Emory Thursday evening, Veterans Day, detailing his role as commander of U.S. military relief efforts.

He also attended an early-morning flag raising on campus and spoke one-on-one with leadership students, faculty, staff, veterans and JROTC students.

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“We’re especially honored to host this event on Veterans Day and pay tribute to all the men and women in uniform who have fought — and continue to fight — for noble causes around the globe.” said Larry Benveniste, Dean of Goizueta Business School.

Keen, the second guest in the 2010-2011 Dean’s Leadership Speaker Series was also welcomed by the Emory Center for Ethics and Rollins School of Public Health.

Keen, the Military Deputy Commander of U.S. Southern Command, Miami, was in Haiti with others from his office when the earthquake struck. One member of his team perished in the quake, which would soon draw hundreds of personnel for natural disaster relief.

“We could hear the collapsing of the building around us,” he said. “… Over 30 percent of the capital of Port-au-Prince was completely destroyed.

Keen spent the evening detailing the military’s response, which provided infastructure and support to countless non-government organizations (NGOs) that still provide  for the Haitian people.

“This is response, regardless of what country, would have required the international community.This wasn’t a response from the U.S. Military; it was a response of the world to the need of the Haitian people.”

Fourteen of 16 government ministries were destroyed in the quake and, even now, according to Keen, only 2 percent of debris has been removed from the nation’s capital. With the military’s assistance, the ability to import supplies actually increased from pre-disaster levels. A floating port was built within three weeks and a one-runway airport’s capacity increased from 13 to more than 150 flights per day.

But logistics was just one of many challenges.

Keen was charged with balancing support efforts from charities and other countries in a nation left with little remaining infrastructure. The United Nations, which had a strong presence in Haiti, lost workers in the earthquake and didn’t have resources to handle such a large campaign.

“I was asked by my bosses at the Pentagon ‘what do you need?’ Keen said. “My answer was ‘What don’t I need?'”

Keen compared the military’s role to the response to a 911 call. Approximately 22,000 U.S. servicemen and women responded, many on ships organizing relief and providing medical aid.

Keen said NGOs provided some of the best aid, so systems were put in place to provide support to their efforts. He also credited some of his soldiers for creative efforts — like working with Google to develop maps that helped identify areas of need and other crucial information.

The primary objective?

“Help everybody that comes help the Haitian people,” Keen said.

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