Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities conduct tsunami evacuation drill
By Dialogo February 14, 2014
Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities recently conducted a joint evacuation drill to prepare for natural disasters, such as an earthquake or a tsunami. The drill is to help security forces from both countries prepare for assisting the civilian population survive a natural disaster.
The First Colombia-Ecuador Binational Simulation Earthquake and Tsunami was held on Feb. 6, 2014. Authorities in the Colombian departments of Nariño, Cauca and Valle del Cauca and the Ecuadorian provinces of Esmeraldas, Imbabura and Carchi participated in the exercise.
The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management in Colombia (UNGRD) which mobilized 18,000 people, and the Secretariat of Risk Management of Ecuador (SNGR), which recruited more than 26,000 people, including thousands of schoolchildren to participate in the drill, cooperatively organized the exercise.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was among those who participated in the drill.
Santos and the other participants were alerted to a large imaginary earthquake along the border shared by Colombia and Ecuador. The imaginary earthquake registered 8.2 on the Richter scale. In the drill, the earthquake generated an imaginary tsunami.
In the drill, security forces in Colombia and civilian Ecuadoreans responded quickly to the imaginary crisis and evacuated thousands of people from the Pacific coastal region. Authorities in both countries directed civilians to specific meeting locations where they would be safe, authorities said.
Colombian and Ecuadorean authorities conducted the drill to help train the civilian population on how to respond to a natural disaster, according to UNGRD.
"This exercise intends to make the community aware of the risk it faces,” in the event of a natural disaster, the UNGRD said in a statement.
The three branches of the Armed Forces in Colombia participated in the drill, along with members of the National Police and firefighters. In Ecuador, officials with the Red Cross, firefighters, and civil defense groups took part in the exercise.
Colombian authorities simulated the evacuation of victims, a loss of communications, and the destruction of physical infrastructure.
Once the UNGRD activated the alert, the National Recovery Center staff alerted units and immediately dispatched a Colombian Air Force aircraft from Air Command Military Transport (CATAM). The aircraft conducted a reconnaissance mission in Colombia's Pacific coast, obtaining aerial images of populations of Bahia Solano, Buenaventura, Tumaco and Munchique hill.
Meanwhile, the Colombian Navy dispatched the ARC ship "Valle del Cauca" along with Coast Guard units, a maritime patrol aircraft and a helicopter to simulate the rescue of a shipwreck seven nautical miles from the island of Tumaco.
Ecuador’s evacuation exercise
In Ecuador, authorities in Esmeraldas experienced a temporary setback at the beginning of the exercise when the alarms did not go off at 10:00 a.m. as planned. However, within 15 minutes the malfunctioning was fixed and the exercise went forward. The residents of 17 Ecuadorean border communities heard warning bells calling people to evacuate to high places because a tidal wave was approaching the coast.
Ecuadorian authorities gathered at the Esmeraldas Fire Department. The mayor of Esmeraldas participated in the evacuation drill.
In the drill, casualties and serious property damage was reported in the Ecuadorean provinces of Imbabura, Carchi and Esmeralda. In Imbabura six rescuers came to the rescue of victims from the “collapsed” building of the Ministry of Agriculture. Inside the one-story building, 29 staff members that appeared to be injured were rescued and given medical treatment.
Authorities evacuated more than 20,000 students from 79 Ecuadorean schools.
As part of the drill, injuries and property damage were also reported in the Colombian department of Nariño.
After the exercise was complete, Colombia’s consul in Esmeraldas, Francisco Pelaéz, thanked Ecuadorean authorities for participating in the drill.
The importance of emergency exercises
It is important for authorities to conduct the kind of drill that Colombian and Ecuador cooperated on, said Héctor Chávez Villao, a security analyst at the University of Guayaquil.
"These kind of exercises are important because they allow the authorities to assess in what areas they are strong and in what areas they need to make improvements,” Chávez Villao, said. “As history has taught us, to meet these natural disasters we should be prepared. Colombia and Ecuador have been in the past impacted by tsunamis, floods and earthquakes.”
In December 1979, an earthquake which registered 8.1 on the Richter scale struck in the Pacific Ocean, about 75 kilometers off the coast of Tumaco, which is located in the Colombian department of Nariño. The earthquake caused a tsunami, which killed hundreds of people and destroyed at least six fishing villages in Nariño. The earthquake was felt in Bogota, Cali, Popayan, Buenaventura and other major cities and villages in Colombia, and in Guayaquil, Esmeraldas, Quito and other parts of Ecuador.
Tsunami early warning system
In 2012, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hosted a meeting in Lima, Peru, to discuss the creation of a system which could provide Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Peru early warnings about approaching tsunamis. O
ceanographers, seismologists and regional specialists in disaster prevention participated in the meeting.
At the time of the conference, each of the four countries had national protocols to follow in the event of tsunami, said Gustavo Sanin , permanent secretary of the South Pacific Commission. During the conference in Lima, officials from the four countries adopted regional protocols for how to respond to a tsunami, Sanin said. Officials agreed to connect each of their respective early warning systems and to collaborate on disaster prevention initiatives.
“In the southern Pacific coast there are at least 3 or 4 buoys with warning systems when there is imminence of a tsunami,” Sanin said. The buoys belong to and are monitored by scientific institutions in the United States and Japan, Sanin said.
I'm glad for the union of those two countries. They truly represent an example for the region, because nationalities or political trends don't matter during this type of disasters. What is truly valuable is to save lives, congratulations to each country and especially to the military forces who will act in the event of an emergency. The Colombian military forces are very professional in their operations, look at the support they gave to Ecuador to put out the 2012 fires with the UH-60 helicopter of the FAC, always willing to do their best. That's why I'm very glad that they are uniting and learning together in these situations. May God bless you. I'm glad for the union of those two countries, they truly represent an example for the region, because nationalities or political trends don't matter during this type of disasters. What is truly valuable is to save lives, congratulations to each country and especially to the military forces who will act in the event of an emergency. The Colombian military forces are very professional in their operations, look at the support they gave to Ecuador to put out the 2012 fires with the UH-60 helicopter of the FAC, always willing to do their best. That's why I'm very glad that they are uniting and learning together in these situations. May God bless you.