Central American Service Members Train on Rescue Operations

Central American Service Members Train on Rescue Operations

By Kay Valle/Diálogo
December 11, 2017

Military personnel from the Humanitarian Rescue Unit of the Conference of Central American Armed Forces (UHR-CFAC, per its Spanish acronym) participated in the first joint training on search and rescue operations. The UHR-CFAC course trained 30 service members in the city of Comayagua, northwest of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, October 29th–November 3rd, 2017.

The training, provided through the Regional Humanitarian Aid Training Center (CARAH, per its Spanish acronym) in Honduras, included six service members from each CFAC member nation. “The five participating teams conducted a joint technical, tactical, and operational exercise to progress professionally,” Honduran Army Colonel José Luis Mendieta Corea, director of CARAH and commander of UHR for the Honduran Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “That’s necessary to get to the right level of operational readiness.”

Participants trained on topics such as incident command systems as well as map reading, knots, and rigging. They also demonstrated their knowledge in search and rescue, aquatic rescue, triage, and victim packaging, among other skills.

Humanitarian Rescue Unit

Central America suffers the effects of natural disasters such as tropical storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, floods, and landslides, among others. To counter these threats, readiness and response must remain at the highest levels and be carried out in coordination.

UHR-CFAC, a branch of CFAC, began its operations in 2000. It was established to meet international aid requirements in the event of natural or human-caused disasters. UHR-CFAC conducts humanitarian aid and rescue operations upon request of the country affected. The unit is made up of service members from each member armed force’s UHR.

Since its founding, UHR-CFAC participated in various humanitarian aid operations. Its most recent operation was the earthquake in Mexico in September 2017. According to Col. Mendieta, UHR-CFAC can “assist its member nations and other countries throughout the world, in coordination with public agencies that provide emergency response.”

Central American cooperation

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras founded CFAC in November 1997, as a specialized regional military organization. The Dominican Republic joined in 2007.

CFAC’s purpose is to promote cooperation efforts, coordination, and mutual support among the armed forces. In addition to providing support operations during natural disasters, CFAC deals with threats such as narcotrafficking and organized crime, and also participates in peacekeeping operations.

CFAC has specialized centers in each country: in the Dominican Republic, there is the Regional Humanitarian Rights Training Center; in Guatemala, the Regional Peacekeeping Operations Training Center; in El Salvador, the Regional Training Center for Countering Transnational Crime; and in Nicaragua, the International Humanitarian Demining Training Center. CFAC established its newest center, CARAH, in Honduras in 2014.

“With regard to humanitarian aid, all nations will converge in Honduras,” Col. Mendieta said. “The plan is to continue this annual [UHR-CFAC] training with the same number of participants per team, and the mission is to achieve a successful training opportunity.”

First joint training

Instructors from each CFAC member nation taught the exercise with support from the Honduran firefighters and the Honduran group Personnel Used in Fire and Rescue Missions. Each phase of the training event took place in different parts of Comayagua to mimic disaster conditions.

“This went beyond learning on the ground,” Col. Mendieta said. “It involved improving every detail. And now, as a result, our disaster response will be standardized. For example, for the search and rescue course, we performed a vertical rescue from the bridge over the Humuya River, and an aquatic rescue at the small dam in the town of Taladro.”

The instructors evaluated all five teams using a point system based on conceptual understanding, physical performance, and conduct. Guatemala’s UHR earned the highest scores.

“Guatemala’s UHR took first place due to their dedication, hard work, leadership, and spirit of selflessness and commitment,” Guatemalan Army First Lieutenant Milton Estuario Buc Galindo, commander of the Guatemalan UHR’s Technical Unit for Civic-Military Operations. “The training we’ve had has been efficient and effective,” 1st Lt. Buc said. “Our personnel has the knowledge necessary to respond to any possible event.”