January 16, 2012: A decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan has created many technology spinoff benefits for those who deliver foreign aid and peacekeeping to disaster areas. For example, the U.S. bought some 20,000 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles. Once American troops were out of Iraq many of these vehicles were found unsuitable for Afghanistan, where there are fewer roads and a special MRAP design was found more suitable. Eventually, most of these armored trucks will be out of work. Some will go into storage, but many will be put up for sale, cheap.
Security is often a problem in disaster areas and MRAPs were found popular with many NGOs and nations that have problems with security. The only downside is that MRAPs are expensive to operate. The U.S. has given or sold MRAPs to allies who participate in peacekeeping operations, and MRAPs are ideal for areas where bandits or terrorists are a threat (via mines and roadside bombs).
Other wartime developments that proved useful for disaster relief included emergency medical devices, especially those that quickly stop heavy bleeding. Another military innovation was the "instant Internet" that enabled local and international communications to be set up within hours. Using a combination of satellite, cell phone, and wi-fi technology relief workers can quickly have desperately needed local and international communications. This "instant Internet" kit can be delivered in a shipping container, ready to be quickly deployed.
The U.S. will also have surplus emergency food, in the form of MRE freeze-dried field rations. These are often donated to relief efforts. The U.S. has also developed MREs more suitable for local eating habits.
America also found that its naval amphibious task forces were excellent for quick disaster work. Now these amphibious units train for emergency relief operations. In addition to their helicopters and skilled personnel, there are also medical facilities and personnel trained to handle large numbers of combat casualties. This has proved extremely useful for natural disasters.
The U.S. also developed a wide range of UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) that can quickly provide aerial reconnaissance wherever needed. The most useful UAVs are the smaller ones, especially the two kilogram (4.4 pound) Raven. The U.S. has over 5,000 of these and can quickly provide some to a disaster zone. Peacekeepers have also found UAVs useful to detect and avoid, or go after, armed groups that are disrupting relief operations. Larger UAVs can search large areas for isolated survivors, bad guys, and the extent of damage to roads and bridges. The U.S. is now introducing helicopter UAVs that can land and drop off emergency supplies or drop them via parachute. The U.S. Air Force also developed GPS guided parachutes that can deliver pallets of supplies to precise locations. Delivering supplies quickly can be a matter of life and death after a natural disaster.
There are many other items and techniques developed in the last decade that relief operations now take advantage of. War is hell, but every cloud has a bit of silver lining.