Central American armed forces build up skills to save lives during natural disasters.
Central American military officers took part in a regional course in Honduras to enhance their rescue knowledge and standards. For nearly a month, service members of each member country of the Central American Armed Forces Conference (CFAC, in Spanish) took part in a course to train in aquatic rescue and first aid, among other activities.
Some 30 troops from CFAC’s Humanitarian and Rescue Units (UHR, in Spanish) participated in the fourth edition of the Integrated Humanitarian Aid Course. The course took place April 22-May 18, 2018, at the Honduran Armed Forces’ Regional Humanitarian Aid Training Center (CARAH, in Spanish) in Tegucigalpa.
The goal of the course was to train officers in providing basic assistance to victims as well as assessing damages, evaluating needs, and supplying materials such as water, medicine, and basic hygiene products to affected communities. The course also consisted of still- and open-water endurance tests, as well as rescue exercises in confined spaces. According to Honduran Army Colonel Mario Alberto Matute Pacheco, commander of UHR-Honduras, the course is advantageous in that it “produces highly qualified personnel with the specialized skills needed to help people in the region in the event of a natural or man-made disaster.”
A demanding course
“Each CFAC member country is responsible for conducting a rescue training session beforehand,” Col. Matute explained. “That way, they can select the personnel best suited to participate in the course, in accordance with each course’s requirements and demands.”
The course, consisting of academic instruction and hands-on practice, was divided into four main modules that included exams and mock situations. Upon graduating from the course, officers proved the high level of preparedness of CFAC’s UHR.
The first module focused on basic and psychological first aid. Service members’ objective was to save a victim’s life and prevent the patient or rescuer from suffering physical or mental trauma.
“This is basic knowledge that any rescuer who will participate in rescue or psychological support groups should have,” Honduran Navy Captain José Domingo Meza, director of Public Relations for the Honduran Armed Forces, told Diálogo. “In some situations, [rescuers] find people who have been dismembered or mutilated, and are traumatized after completing the rescue. Psychological first aid addresses this situation [as well].”
The next modules included supplying material, evaluating damage, and analyzing needs. “When the aid is received, how it’s administered and controlled are part of the humanitarian aid process,” said Capt. Meza.
The course’s conceptual component focused on post-disaster operations, how to reestablish basic services and perform rescues in confined spaces. The mock situations made use of both lightweight and heavy collapsed structures so participants could practice entering and exiting the structures properly while hauling all of their equipment.
Still water and swift water endurance tests and sea rescue drills rounded out the training activities. For this part of the course, participants traveled to La Ceiba in the department of Atlántida on Honduras’s Caribbean coast to train in the rapids of the Cangrejal river, which was followed by an open-sea exercise in the Caribbean. “Each student was trained and made aware that it is up to them to survive and rescue other people,” said Col. Matute.
Because of its geographical location, Central America is prone to natural disasters such as tropical storms, flooding rivers, landslides, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. In its 2014 Regional Report on the State of Vulnerability and Disaster Risk in Central America, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction stated that the frequency and intensity of these threats is on the rise.
“The UHR of each [CFAC] member country was created in response to our countries’ propensity to natural and man-made disasters,” said Col. Matute. “There was a clear need to train personnel to keep up our operational readiness and standardize our rescue guidelines, bringing them in line with international norms.”
The humanitarian aid course is held twice a year, once between April and May and again in August, coinciding with hurricane and rainy seasons. Created in 2014, CARAH trained more than 370 civilians and service members from CFAC militaries, which includes the armed forces of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic.
“The humanitarian aid doctrine, knowledge, and human resources that CARAH-Honduras-CFAC produces to respond to natural or man-made disasters are of the highest quality. They protect human life and contribute to the sustainable development of the region,” Capt. Meza concluded. “When officers return to their countries, they create a domino effect because they share what they learned with colleagues in their respective humanitarian and rescue units.”