Chilean Armed Forces Prepare to Help Civilians During Natural Disasters

Chilean Armed Forces Prepare to Help Civilians During Natural Disasters

By Dialogo
August 03, 2015

Chile’s Armed Forces, security agencies, emergency personnel, and several regional ministerial delegates recently met for the Vientos Australes 2015 exercise, where they worked together in the southernmost post of the Americas to devise the best ways to save lives and minimize damage during a catastrophe.

About 100 service members and civilians attended the June 24-26 event in Punta Arenas - Magallanes Region 12, including the commanding officer of the Southern Joint Command, the commanders-in-chief of the different branches of the Armed Forces, and a host of other high-ranking officials. The Armed Forces’ participants at the event also included representatives of the Argentine Army and observers from Chile's Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to Colonel Fernando Osses Camus, the Southern Joint Command’s Chief of Staff

“They set up 35 work stations for conducting this exercise,” he told Diálogo.

Preparing for emergencies

Vientos Australes 2015 focused on testing regional response planning, which is supported by the Emergency Situation Management and Training Simulation (SIGEN, for its Spanish acronym) system at the Chilean Army’s War College, during a natural disaster. SIGEN had been validated internationally as a training medium through the Organization of American States (OAS) Conference of American Armies.

“The exercise’s relevance lies in training all decision-making personnel in the event of an emergency or disaster in the region, be it natural or man-made, and how to coordinate the different agencies that support the population and any support that might be provided by the Armed Forces in Magallanes,” Col. Osses said.

Military and civilian participants received training on the best strategies to use when responding to major fires, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, heavy seas, earthquakes, tremors, and hydro-meteorological hazards.

“At the regional level, this is the first time that an exercise like this one has been developed, although exercises of this nature with the aforementioned software – developed by the War College – had already been developed domestically and internationally on more than 50 occasions,” Col. Osses said.

Crucial role of Armed Forces

Training to respond to natural catastrophes and other emergencies is crucial for the Armed Forces and civilian authorities because Chile is one of the world’s most important natural laboratories.

Military and civilian authorities have responded to many natural disasters throughout Chile’s history; from the 1500s to April 2015, the Andean nation experienced 413 volcanic eruptions, some of which damaged populated areas.

Fifty-three percent of the world’s tsunamis originate along Chile’s coast, and two of the most powerful earthquakes the planet has seen had their epicenter in Santiago, the capital. Armed Forces and civilian officials are also preparing to deal with other challenges, such as receding glaciers, droughts, and forest fires.

Preparing to assist civilians during natural catastrophes and other emergencies requires a high degree of cooperation among the Armed Forces, non-Military government agencies, and private businesses.

Such cooperation was evident in March 2015, when a team of 80 service members with machinery and combat equipment, in addition to personnel from the Chilean Army School of Engineers, responded to the devastating floods in the city of Copiapó and the surrounding Atacama region. Torrential rains killed more than two dozen people and left 101 people missing, La Gran Época

The service members helped the civilian population by removing debris that blocked roadways, reopening a canal, and erecting a containment wall to prevent the water and mud from causing further damage.

To provide assistance, the Army cooperated with the Humanitarian Aid Department, civilian government agencies, and private companies that also contributed specialized machinery to the Corps of Engineers.

Military authorities also responded rapidly following the eruption of the Villarrica Volcano in Pucón, in Cautín province, and when the city of Valparaíso was engulfed by fire in March 2015. Additionally, the Armed Forces assisted civilians during the forest fires in Torres del Paine National Forest in December 2011 and when the Minas River, which passes through downtown Punta Arenas, overflowed in March 2012.

Improving cooperation

Following the massive February 27, 2010 earthquake, which registered an 8.8 on the Richter scale and caused a tsunami, the government improved response training for the agencies tasked with responding to emergencies, including providing world-class technological systems to the Navy Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOA), the National Emergencies Office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Security (ONEMI) and the Seismology Center at the University of Chile.

Meanwhile, the Military is incorporating the information it learned during Vientos Australes 2015, Col. Osses said.

“To do this, we requested the corresponding input from all participating agencies, so as to improve the coordination process given the likelihood that these events occur, in addition to the report issued by the simulation system itself, which is due at the end of August,” he added.

Patricio Catalán, a researcher at the Civilian Works Department Federico Santa María University in Valparaíso, said the country has made strides to safeguard residents during natural disasters.

“Chile has done extensive work in focusing on prevention and (preparing) for tsunamis and assessing such emergencies,” he added.