The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART)

The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) is a multidisciplinary organization composed of military members and civilians from Global Affairs Canada, designed to deploy on short notice anywhere in the world in response to situations ranging from natural disasters to complex humanitarian emergencies. It is one component of the Government of Canada’s toolkit to respond to natural disasters abroad.

The DART can deploy for up to 60 days, working alongside local authorities and other international organizations and agencies. It acts as a stabilization measure until the local government and international organizations are capable of assuming responsibility for subsequent recovery and reconstruction efforts.Around the world, many governmental and non-governmental organizations deliver expert humanitarian aid programs and services. The DART does not compete with these organizations; it complements their activities.

Concept of operations

The DART deploys to “permissive” environments at the request of an affected nation — that is, to regions where the government supports its presence and where it will not face organized resistance to its operations. It is not a standing force, but a group of pre-identified personnel across Canada ready to deploy on operations on short notice.

DART responsibilities

The primary responsibilities of the DART are:

  • to stabilize the primary effects of the disaster in co-operation with national and regional governments and non-governmental agencies;
  • to prevent the onset of secondary effects of the disaster; and
  • to gain time for national and international humanitarian aid organizations to deploy to the affected area and prepare to deliver long-term recovery programs.

The DART is not designed to provide first response services, such as search and rescue or emergency trauma care. Instead, it can be useful where the capabilities of local governments and humanitarian agencies to provide primary health care and potable water are overstretched.

Typical DART tasks include:

  • water purification;
  • primary medical care; and
  • engineering help.

Initiating a DART mission

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) provides disaster assistance and humanitarian response assistance at the direction of the Government of Canada (GoC). Recommendations to deploy CAF assets are made jointly by Global Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence. This includes the recommendation of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team (CDAT; formerly called the Interdepartmental Strategic Support team), a joint group of experts from the Department of National Defence and Global Affairs Canada, that deploys to the disaster zone and provides a needs-based assessment of the situation on the ground.

The CAF is ready to support GAC, which is the lead agency for the Government of Canada’s humanitarian response should there be a request for assistance from the affected country or from an international organization such as the United Nations.

Most DART equipment, stores, and supplies are stored in Trenton, Ontario and are maintained for immediate deployment.The DART is not a standing force, but a group of pre-identified personnel from across Canada that is ready to deploy on operations on short notice.

DART composition

The DART has the following main elements:

  • DART Headquarters: DART HQ is the link to the governments of Canada and the affected nation, and to partner organizations such as the UN and non-governmental humanitarian aid agencies. Under the direction of the Commanding Officer, DART HQ is responsible for determining and co-ordinating all the unit’s work in the theatre of operations. DART HQ is supported directly by a Military Police Section of two CAF members. DART HQ is drawn mostly from the 1st Canadian Division Headquarters) and the Canadian Forces Joint Signal Regiment (about 13 CAF members) in Kingston, Ontario.
  • DART Company Headquarters: “DART Company” is the main body of the DART, and includes Engineer Troop, Medical Platoon, Logistics Platoon and Defence & Security Platoon. DART Coy HQ provides command and control for its sub-units and sets their tasking priorities; it also provides a separate command team that can direct a split operation if required.
  • Engineer Troop: Engineer Troop includes both field engineers (with sections for Water Supply, Heavy Equipment and Field Engineering) and construction engineers. With its Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU), the DART can purify up to 50,000 litres of safe drinking water per day, provided in bulk to the medical aid station and for distribution to local residents. Once the DART camp is established, engineers focus on tasks required to support humanitarian aid operations.
  • Medical Platoon: The health care centre can serve 250 to 300 outpatients and 10 inpatients per day, depending on their needs. The Medical Platoon operates a medical aid station, offering laboratory, pharmacy, rehydration, preventive medicine and limited obstetrics services. It does not provide surgical or trauma care services.
  • Logistics Platoon: Logistics Platoon provides the DART with most of its support and sustainment services, such as transport, equipment and vehicle maintenance, and supply.
  • Defence and Security Platoon: Defence and Security Platoon is the DART’s source of security and general labour services.
  • Civilian Advisors: Global Affairs Canada civilian advisors, who provide critical civilian-military liaison, political and humanitarian advice.


DART origins

In 1994, the DND medical unit from Petawawa, Ontario was deployed to Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps faced an outbreak of cholera. Despite best efforts, the medical contingent did not arrive until after the epidemic had passed its peak. The Canadian government recognized the need for a rapid-response capability to provide effective humanitarian aid.

DART deployments to date

Nepal (April 26 to May 29, 2015)

Operation RENAISSANCE 15-1

On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake devastated Western and Central regions of Nepal. CAF members began deploying to the region on April 26, 2015 as part of a Government of Canada response led by DFATD (now known as GAC). Approximately 200 personnel were deployed to assist in various tasks such as engineering, medical aid, liaison services, and mapping. A second earthquake hit the country on 12 May 2015. By the end of the mission, the DART had: distributed 75 water filtration units; enabled access to clean safe drinking water for approximately 3,400 people; treated more than 700 Nepalese patients; provided 750 maps and imagery products to the Nepalese and foreign militaries, NGOs and UN agencies; removed more than 3,000 cubic meters of rubble and cleared roads allowing access to approximately 204,000 Nepalese; enabled more than 300 public safety announcements; and distributed more than 355 crank radios to connect remote communities with relief efforts.

Philippines (November 13 to December 15, 2013)

Operation RENAISSANCE 13-1

After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013, the DART was deployed to Iloilo, Philippines to provide humanitarian support. The typhoon cause significant loss of life, a large number of injuries as well as destruction of property. The CAF task force included several assets and 319 personnel. At the end of the mission, the DART had purified nearly 500,000 litres of water, treated 6,525 medical patients, transported 828 passengers by Griffon helicopter, conducted 14 construction projects, repaired 8 generators and cleared 131 km of roads. The task force also helped non-governmental organizations and local authorities by delivering 230,485 pounds of food, 59,536 pounds of humanitarian assistance goods and 10,325 pounds of shelter and building materials.

Haiti (January 13 to March 31, 2010)

Operation HESTIA

Within 24 hours of the earthquake on January 12, 2010, the first reconnaissance elements of the DART landed in Port-au-Prince as part of Canada’s whole-of government response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Haiti. At its peak, approximately 2,050 CAF personnel deployed in support of Operation HESTIA. Operation HESTIA included a task force, two Royal Canadian Navy ships, strategic and tactical airlift, a field hospital, an infantry battalion with engineering assets, and the DART. The DART purified nearly 2.9 million litres of drinking water and provided medical treatment to 22,000 patients.

Pakistan (October 11 to December 1, 2005)

Operation PLATEAU

The DART deployd to heavily damaged regions in Pakistan in October 2005, following a massive earthquake. The DART distributed 500 tonnes of humanitarian aid supplies, purified and distributed over 3.8 million litres of drinking water, and provided medical treatment to nearly 12,000 patients.

Sri Lanka (December 30, 2004 to February 19, 2005)


Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the DART was sent to the Ampara district of Sri Lanka. This region of about 600,000 people was one of the worst affected, with an estimated 10,400 killed and another 180,000 displaced. The DART medical teams saw more than 7,620 patients while engineers produced nearly three million-and-a-half litres of drinking water and transported more than 70,000 people across a local waterway.

Turkey (August 24 to September 25, 1999)

Operation TORRENT

On August 17, 1999, an earthquake measuring 7.4 on the Richter scale struck northwestern Turkey, collapsing thousands of buildings and damaging much of the area's infrastructure. The Turkish government estimated that nearly 16,000 were killed, 15,000 injured, 30,000 went missing, and over half a million were rendered homeless. The DART deployed to Serdivan, Turkey, on August 24 to provide humanitarian assistance, focusing on medical aid and potable water. A medical aid station treated more than 5,000 patients, including 260 psychological casualties. Three water purification units produced more than 2.5 million litres of water, most of which was distributed by truck throughout the Serdivan and Adapazari areas; about 200,000 litres were distributed to the neediest people in one-litre sealed plastic bags.

Honduras (November to December 1998)

Operation CENTRAL

When Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in late 1998, it killed at least 11,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless. Flooding was a major source of trouble, and outbreaks of water-borne diseases, especially cholera, were reported in many areas. Canada contributed the DART, which deployed to La Cieba, Honduras with 180 personnel organized in medical, engineering, logistics and security sections. The DART purified over 250,000 litres of drinking water, and provided medical treatment to approximately 7,500 patients.

Date modified: