The Colombian Army’s urban search and rescue (USAR) team, USAR-COL13, of the Disaster Attention Engineer Brigade, put its ground humanitarian aid capabilities to the test to earn the highest classification for search and rescue in collapsed structures, the Colombian Military Forces’ General Command (CGFM) said in a statement.
“With this certification, the USAR-COL13 will be able to intervene with the coordination of the [government’s] National Unit for Disaster Risk Management [UNGRD] in any country that requires it and needs it,” Colombian Army Lieutenant Colonel Pedro Lancheros, chief of staff of the Disaster Attention and Prevention Engineer Brigade, told Diálogo on July 11. “We brought observers so that they would see that we have all the capabilities to support them in a disaster of great magnitude at the regional level.”
More than 100 men and women of the Brigade took part in a simulated scenario of situations that occurred during the 1999 earthquake in Armenia, where buildings collapsed, rendering the first 48 hours key for the search and rescue of possible victims trapped in the rubble, the CGFM said. The certification fell under the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a global network of more than 90 countries and organizations under the United Nations (U.N.) umbrella, which establishes minimum international standards for USAR teams, and methodology for international coordination in earthquake response, for urban search and rescue.
“The training was done at the National Training Center, at the Toleimada Military Fort, with the supervision of the UNGRD,” Lt. Col. Lancheros said. The military Brigade received the classification from expert observers from the armies of Ecuador, France, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Spain, and the United States, the CGFM added
“There is a background preparation. This is not the result of months of training, but years,” Spanish Air and Space Force Lieutenant Colonel Javier Barranco of the Military Emergency Unit, said in an INSARAG video. “This type of training prepares USAR teams for an international intervention according to the INSARAG guide. The USAR-COL13 has many capabilities, it’s a benchmark unit.”
The Brigade not only has dedicated and trained personnel to carry out search and rescue, but also has the capability to operate without interruptions until the end of the intervention, at two work sites simultaneously, and with all the necessary equipment and technology to save lives, Lt. Col. Lancheros said.
The Brigade, Lt. Col. Lancheros added, hopes to lead combined exercises such as U.S. Southern Command- (SOUTHCOM) sponsored Humanitarian Allied Forces (FAHUM), which brings together humanitarian rescue units from Latin American countries to carry out simulations to deal with disasters and emergencies.
The Latin America/Caribbean region is the second most prone to disaster worldwide, according to the U.N. Since 2000, more than 152 million inhabitants of Latin America and the Caribbean have been affected by more than 1,200 disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, storms, droughts, avalanches, fires, and volcanic events, among others.
The Disaster Attention Engineer Brigade, which was launched under this name in November 2021, began as a company in 2009 and became a full battalion in 2011, with some 500 men and women. “With this activation we have around 950 men and women who have been training and getting certified to be able to attend emergencies,” Lt. Col. Lancheros said.
The Brigade’s service members participated as observers in FAHUM exercises and took courses in Italy and Brazil, among its many international experiences. “As a result of this, we took as a reference some experiences from these countries and adapted them to our organization,” Lt. Col. Lancheros added.
One with the others
During the accreditation exercise, the Colombian Army, together with international observers, began planning an international demonstration exercise of humanitarian capabilities on the ground for 2024, to strengthen tactics, techniques, and procedures in disaster response.
“In this exercise not only observers will participate, but we will bring intervention teams to run the drill, ensure interoperability, unify doctrine criteria, get to know each other, and be able to guarantee in the future that if a disaster happens, we will be prepared,” Lt. Col. Lancheros concluded.