Chilean Navy Used Technology to Protect Civilians After Earthquake

Chilean Navy Used Technology to Protect Civilians After Earthquake

By Dialogo
October 15, 2015

The country, international aviation conferences, armies in South America, authorities sharing information in the fight against the terrorist organizations and groups give confidence to the most affected citizens and people. May God HELP them in these difficult times.

Thanks in large part to its newly improved National Tsunami Warning System (SNAM), Chile's Armed Forces responded quickly to help civilians after an 8.4-magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami that destroyed a large portion of the coastline and interior of the Coquimbo Region IV on September 16.

The SNAM and Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART, for its English acronym) buoy warned authorities about the developing natural disaster, allowing the Naval Hydrography and Oceanographic Service (SHOA, for its Spanish acronym) to activate a tsunami alert along the country’s entire coast using sirens and text messages. Those warnings “helped ensure that large numbers of people were able to evacuate,” Rear Admiral Patricio Carrasco Hellwig, SHOA's director, told Diálogo.
Authorities estimate that nearly a million people were able to move to safe areas.

“A lot of sensors have been installed to allow us to monitor what is going on all along the coast in real time; we also count on buoys, a large number of programs, software, and elements that we have for processing information.To make decisions, you need to have good information, specifically information that is fast and accurate."

Improved technology

The speed and precision of that information came as the result of technological upgrades recently implemented by the Chilean Navy.

For example, in 2010, it established an operations room with tsunami experts supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, for its English acronym); the Navy also installed two satellite transmission systems, one telephonic transmission system, two power systems, and two measuring systems. All of that equipment has backups in case the original fail or experience problems.

These upgrades support a system of 40 SNAM monitoring systems located at sea level throughout the entire length of the country - including Antarctica and all of the Chilean islands - which monitor sea level by using a specialized laser apparatus to measure variations in water height. It transmits data via the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS, for its English acronym) every minute and via satellite every five minutes.

Using technology designed in Chile, authorities can also exchange information with text messages over a satellite network that's connected to the 16 maritime departments and 64 port authorities 24 hours a day. The Navy also deployed a second DART buoy with a sensor on the ocean floor that transmits detailed information about tsunamis while they are still far from the coast. The buoys, which are located 180 miles west of Iquique and 190 miles west of Caldera, are connected to the global network for monitoring tsunamis.

Air Force, Army, and Navy assist the civilian population

In the wake of the September 16 earthquake and tsunami, the government declared a State of Constitutional Exception for the region, immediately activating the Defense Operations Center, an entity directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and responsible for coordinating the assistance from the different branches of the Military. The Armed Forces appointed Brigadier General Schafik Nazal Lázaro, Commander-in-Chief of Chile’s Second Motorized Army Division, to coordinate the humanitarian assistance efforts.

A Chilean Air Force (FACh, for its Spanish acronym) Boeing 737 transported government officials to the disaster zone in the early morning hours of September 17 so they could assess the damage. At the same time, the Commander-in-Chief of the First Naval Zone, Rear Admiral Arturo Undurraga, who was aboard a Navy Orion P-3 aircraft, flew over the region to inspect the coastal areas affected by the tsunami. The Orion P-3 is outfitted with a high-resolution camera and a videoconferencing system that transmits in real time, so authorities could alert the population to further dangers immediately.

Meanwhile, the Navy provided four support trucks from the city of Talcahuano, an N-407 airplane, and an N-77 helicopter; the Army provided three PUMA helicopters, five Cougar helicopters, trucks, 11 Mowag transport cars, seven tractor-trailers, and also set up field kitchens; and the FACh pitched in with three helicopters and a Hercules airplane for heavy vehicle transportation. All those vehicles helped the Armed Forces deliver 334 tons of basic necessities consisting of drums of water, hygiene kits, blankets, boxes of food, mattresses, and building materials to civilians in areas impacted by the natural disaster. Troops also delivered 5,000 liters of fuel for the machinery being used in the area.

Armed Forces respond to damaged areas

Advanced notice and rapid humanitarian aid helped minimize the damage from what might have been a catastrophic natural disaster. Authorities recorded more than 50 aftershocks following the main earthquake, resulting in 13 deaths and three missing people, according to the Ministry of Interior’s Office of National Emergencies (ONEMI, for its Spanish acronym). About 9,000 people, were impacted by the quake, which severely damaged 4,370 homes, and destroyed 704 others.

Its epicenter was 46 kilometers west of Canela Baja, a commune in Coquimbo Region IV, 292 kilometers north of Santiago, according to the National Seismological Center (CSN, for its Spanish acronym). The coastal areas most severely affected by the tsunami were Los Vilos, Higuerilla, La Poza, Tongoy, and Coquimbo in Region IV, where waves reached heights of 4.5 meters. In the coastal zone of Valparaíso-Region V, the waves were almost two meters high and waters penetrated more than 700 meters inland, causing widespread damage. The quake knocked out electricity in Coquimbo, leaving more than 600,000 residents without power; however, authorities restored electricity to many regions within 48 hours of the earthquake, and the Military helped to restore order.

“The first night, there were robberies at homes and businesses in the area, so the presence of the Military and the Carabineros has allowed us to focus on the task of cleaning up our homes,” said Julio Varela, a 40-year-old journalist and resident of the coastal town of Tongoy.

Marines arrived at dawn on September 19 aboard the vessel Sargento Aldea and concentrated on removing rubble and clearing streets. Contingents from Army regiments are working in other parts of Coquimbo, including 81 service members from Colchagua Regiment emergency units in Monte Patria; 125 from the Buin Regiment in Salamanca; 105 from the Maip Regiment in Combarbalá; and 112 from the Chillán Regiment in the city of Illapel.

Meanwhile, on September 19 and 20, the FACh performed five airlift evacuations for critical patients from the city of La Serena to Santiago due to serious structural damages to the San Pablo de Coquimbo Regional Hospital. Minister of Defense José Antonio Gómez visited the Coquimbo Region on September 20 to inspect the work on the ground.

“The work of the Armed Forces in these times has been important for security and for clearing the disaster zone,” he told journalists.

A week after the natural disaster, 2,033 service members from the Army, Navy, and Air Force were still working in the area under a State of Constitutional Emergency.

Disaster response praised

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR, for its English acronym) praised the Chilean authorities' preparation and quick response.

“Chilean investments in a resilient infrastructure, early warning systems, and urban planning have ensured at this time that there were few victims, in spite of the earthquake’s intensity,” said Margareta Wahlström, the special representative of the secretary general for UNISDR.

Those investments came in deliberate response to the country's February 2010 earthquake and tsunami, which killed 525 people and destroyed 370,000 homes.

“Natural disasters have made us learn and improve reaction processes in operations other than war to the people and the community,” said Colonel Pablo Onetto Jara, Commander of Infantry Regiment 21 in Coquimbo.

“The recent earthquake and tsunami in Region IV was much less intense than those of February 27, 2010, but allowed us to apply procedures that had already been standardized, practiced, and trained for by both the Armed Forces and regional and community governments. In each community and in each region, there is a committee of emergency operations composed of Military and civilian authorities, which allows interaction and cooperation."

Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this article.