Chile Constantly in Natural Disaster Response Preparation Mode

Chile Constantly in Natural Disaster Response Preparation Mode

By Augusto Scarella/Diálogo
December 19, 2016

Authorities seek to share experiences on providing emergency assistance to the population.

Throughout its history as a republic, Chile has suffered many natural disasters, which have forced the population, and especially the authorities — both civil and military — to learn to deal with many complex situations.

The Minister of Defense, José Antonio Gómez Urrutia, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a series of seminars on natural disaster risk management and mitigation in Antofagasta from November 30th to December 1st. “The aim is for emergency seminars to be held in different parts of the country, to share the experience gained by the Armed Forces in planning and analysis procedures through their support responses to various disasters.”

Breaking records

The natural disasters that have afflicted this South American country have set grim world records. The 9.5-magnitude earthquake that struck the city of Valdivia on May 22, 1960, was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded.

In early 2010, the south-central region of the country was hit by another major seismic event that reached a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale.

Chile is recognized as a real laboratory for disasters and emergencies. And the country’s experiences with natural disasters have forced its citizens and authorities to constantly search for new ways of maximizing preparedness and mitigation based on lessons learned.

Emergency protocols

The Ministry of the Interior, through the National Office of Emergencies (ONEMI, per its Spanish acronym), is the civil authority in charge of assisting in natural disasters and other catastrophic events and has representatives in all 15 regions of the country. The ministry is responsible for the planning of emergency services that operate under the command of the superintendent, who has first-responder responsibility during a disaster, and works through the ONEMI affiliate in the affected area.

However, in the event of a large-scale disaster, the president declares a “catastrophe,” placing the highest-ranking military officer in the affected area in command. That officer takes control of the military’s emergency, security, public safety and support resources, and oversees the regulated and rationed use of any foreign aid.

Sharing the lessons learned during natural disasters is of the utmost importance to national defense so that relief can be provided to the population as quickly as possible, while reducing the loss of human life to the greatest extent possible.

“This initiative seeks to pass along the experience of the Armed Forces in preparing for and responding to disasters, as far as crisis leadership and management. We see this as something that should largely work well with our national emergency system,” said the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Arturo Merino Núñez.

Information analysis

The northern port city of Antofagasta was chosen as the first one to participate in this national defense initiative because of its history of natural disasters. The years 1991, 1995, and 2007 are forever etched in the memory of Chileans. That’s when a flood and two powerful earthquakes struck the country, leaving widespread death and destruction in their wake.

Regional, zonal, and civil authorities from the Chilean Armed Forces attended the seminar to learn the details of the ONEMI’s regional emergency plans for national defense. Several experts who studied the kinds of risks that Antofagasta may face in the future also attended the seminar. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and even volcanic eruptions were studied.

The seminar ended on December 1st, with a hands-on workshop in which participants learned the practical effects of planning for emergencies. The goal of providing each authority with these details was met, and this undoubtedly will help facilitate the response effort in the event of a natural disaster in the future.

1. The Department of Defense, through the Joint Chiefs of Staff, begins works with civil authorities to raise emergency preparedness to the highest level possible.