Exercise Solidarity: When the Joint Force Makes the Difference
By Dialogo January 11, 2013
In a fictitious and very realistic environment, an earthquake and its repercussions affected the life of the city of Mendoza, Argentina, where the Argentine and Chilean Armed Forces carried out a cooperation exercise in case of disasters.
The event took place from October 15 to 19, 2012, and recreated a hypothetical situation where an earthquake reaching almost 8 degrees had shaken the province of Mendoza, causing a series of collapses which left people trapped under debris, cut-off roads and bridges, disrupted basic services, caused fires, and damaged public and private property.
In response to this incident and after initial evaluations, government authorities ordered the Armed Forces to assist the population; they summoned different governmental and non-governmental organizations, and requested the cooperation from Chile’s Armed Forces to confront this large-scale tragedy.
This fictitious situation was devised with the aim of carrying out Exercise Solidarity for cooperation in case of disasters, which the Argentine and Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staffs performed to prepare for similar disaster situations, after an agreement was signed in 1997.
In a few hours, the three branches of the Chilean Armed Forces deployed their troops and equipment in the area. Chilean Army, Navy and Air Force members, coordinated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, crossed the Andes to go help.
In this context, specialized teams from the Chilean Army and Navy received joint and combined training, along with their Argentine counterparts, on the rescue of wounded and trapped people, systems of water purification, restoration of access roads, management of toxic substances, and the implementation of a field hospital based on a triage or classification system, according to the severity of patient severity.
A system operated by the Argentine and Chilean Navies’ militaries was established in General San Martín Park, the green lung of Mendoza, by which they could extract over 3,500 liters of contaminated water per hour from the lake and purify it to deliver it to the population in sealed bags of up to 1.5 liters.
Exercise Solidarity also considered setting up a pedestrian bridge and another one for vehicles, with the aim of joining different areas that were supposedly isolated due to telluric movement.
Another instance that allowed to train, test, and improve procedures detailed in the manuals created after the cooperation agreement in case of disasters, included rescuing people trapped under debris or in fires. For this purpose, a “stage” was set up in the metropolitan rail station, displaying collapsed structures, burned-up buildings, a first aid area, and a heliport to evacuate injured victims.
With the objective of having the simulation vividly depicted and all instances that occur during catastrophes executed, the global strategic command was directed from an emergency operations center headed by the top military authorities representing both Joint Chiefs of Staff. The necessary coordination with each organization involved was carried out from this center based on their capabilities, to achieve the most effective and rapid solution to each situation, according to a land registry created for the exercise.
The air component also participated with two Chilean Air Force Bell 412 helicopters, which flew over the city to determine the most affected areas. They also transported victims to medical centers and distributed food and basic items to the affected population.
In all, it was an action of solidarity performed over five days by men and women of the Armed Forces of two countries which 15 years ago were committed to cooperate in disasters that required mutual support.