Military and Civilian Professionals Train to Respond to Natural Disasters
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo September 20, 2017Forest fires, heavy rainfall, floods, and accidents at chemical plants were some of the alarming situations that the 150 participants faced in the third edition of Joint Exercise in Support of Civil Defense (ECADEC, per its Portuguese acronym), held July 31st and August 4th on the initiative of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, in conjunction with the Ministry of Integration and the Ministry of Health, as well as state and municipal agencies from Rio de Janeiro. The military personnel from the three branches of the armed forces and civilian professionals from different organizations gathered at the 32nd Infantry Battalion headquarters in the city of Petrópolis, in the state of Rio de Janeiro to come up with coordinated initiatives to deal with problems simulated by the organizers of the training program, based on a natural disaster that occurred in the highland region of the state of Rio de Janeiro in 2011, when floods and landslides took the lives of almost 1,000 people. “The exercise was conceived so that each participant could learn how the others act, in order for us to appraise this integration between the respective institutions and so that, when a future natural disaster does occur, we will be ready to respond in a manner that the population expects,” said Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Major General Hudson Costa Potiguara, the deputy head of operations at the Ministry of Defense and commander of the third edition of ECADEC. Participation in the exercise was balanced. Among the approximately 75 military personnel present, most worked in healthcare, social assistance, and in field hospitals. Civilian participants were from agencies such as Civil Defense, the Fire Department, Military Police, and the Red Cross, among others. Cooperation with civil defense initiatives is mandated under the law as an auxiliary assignment for the Armed Forces, and this responsibility has been fulfilled by teams of military personnel on a number of occasions throughout Brazil. Network of operations Since the first edition in 2015, ECADEC has proposed simulated training exercises, wherein the professionals involved interact over an electronic platform. “The system we use is akin to what happens in war games,” said Maj. Gen. Potiguara. In the 2017 edition of ECADEC, the scenarios were conceived virtually with support from three programs: Pacifier and Combatant of the Brazilian Army, and Apolo, a system created by the Ministry of Defense and the Brazilian Navy. With these tools, a network of information is established through which the challenges are presented to the participants, who then discuss and interact as a team, recording their solutions electronically. “When the screen shows an activity in red, it means that the issue is still being resolved,” said Maj. Gen. Potiguara. “Green means that an adequate solution has been applied. Accordingly, everybody facing that situation can see that the particular issue has been resolved.” Robson Teixeira, the undersecretary for Civil Defense in Nova Friburgo, one of the towns in the highland region most affected by the 2011 disaster, was one of the participants. “We received word that there were people injured, one of them in serious condition, in a place that was difficult to access,” said Teixeira about one of the activities. “A helicopter was called in to rescue those people. The aircraft got to the victims but when it attempted to take off again, it broke down. How were we supposed to solve this problem?” he asked. “Our solution was to call in the fire brigade to find an overland route into the area and to bring in machinery to clear a number of obstacles.” In addition to Teixeira, the Civil Defense of Nova Friburgo had another six participants. Teixeira said that the training was a learning opportunity for everyone. “It is a very relevant exercise because we discovered several areas where we can improve our joint operations with so many other agencies,” he said. From reality to simulation Despite basing the training around events that took place in the highland region of Rio de Janeiro in 2011, the situations covered in ECADEC include scenarios common to the entire country. In August 2017 alone, 1,296 municipalities, comprising about a quarter of Brazilian towns and cities, requested assistance from the federal government to address problems caused by rain or drought, according to an investigation conducted by the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, based on data released by the Ministry of National Integration. “In this edition of ECADEC, we not only replicated what happened in 2011 but we also presented other situations based on past events here in the region and in Brazil. Now, for example, we are moving into the dry season, and brushfires are not uncommon,” emphasized Maj. Gen. Potiguara. Accordingly, among the problems raised in the third edition of the joint exercise, two were of particular importance. One of them was a fire about to engulf a FAB radar station in Pico do Couto, located within an environmentally protected area at 1,800 meters above sea level. In addition to the losses to the natural environment, a disaster like this could compromise air traffic control. “This could happen but logically in terms of an exercise, we are training to avoid it from happening,” stressed Maj. Gen. Potiguara. The other situation covered was an industrial accident at the Duque de Caxias refinery in the state of Rio de Janeiro, a strategic installation for Brazil, as it is responsible for 80 percent of national lubricant production and the largest natural gas processing plant in the country. In January 2017, one of the refinery’s units caught fire. The fire was quickly brought under control, without causing major material damage or physical injury to workers at the plant. At the end of ECADEC, the solutions envisaged for all the situations that arose during the exercise were documented in a report. “Especially the capacities tested and the areas that could be improved,” said Maj. Gen. Potiguara, in order to share the lessons with the participating institutions.