Panamanian Interagency Conducts Anti-Crime Training during Carnival
By Roberto López Dubois/Diálogo March 30, 2017Carnival Friday’s exodus on the isthmus marks the beginning of a season that demands a lot of effort, as members of organized crime try to take advantage of the hustle and bustle to evade detection and commit large numbers of crimes. But Panama’s governmental security forces effectively clamp down on these actions as they hold a large-scale annual exercise that allows them to work together to protect citizens while at the same time prevent the illicit smuggling of drugs and goods to neighboring countries. This year, under the name of Joint Task Force Neptune (FTC Neptuno, per its Spanish acronym), 25,000 uniformed agents from Panama’s security and emergency response agencies worked in concert to prevent illicit goods from entering via the Panama Canal. The five service branches of the Panamanian military — the Air-Naval Service (SENAN, per is Spanish acronym), the National Border Service (SENAFRONT, per its Spanish acronym), the National Immigration Service, the Institutional Defense Service, and the National Police — joined forces to maintain public order in places where thousands of merrymakers gathered to enjoy the typical “chaos” of carnival. To complete their mission, they had to secure highways, respond to emergencies, and conduct air and sea patrols, among other tasks. Also participating were emergency response agencies, such as the Fire Department, the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC, per its Spanish acronym), healthcare institutions, and other government agencies, including the Universal Emergency Service, the Panama Maritime Authority, and the National Transit and Land Transportation Authority. The Joint Interagency Task Force is headquartered at the SINAPROC Emergency Operations Center, located in the Aguadulce area in the center of the country. The facility was built in 2009 as part of a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) humanitarian aid program. Arturo Alvarado, who has twice served as director of SINAPROC, told Diálogo that the initiative to pave the way for this organizational framework based on international protocols came from officials at the U.S. Embassy, who introduced the model for joint work at operation centers. This task force brings together various institutions. “We went and visited several similar centers in the United States, and they recommended integration,” he confirmed. Alvarado explained that up to 41 agencies work at the operations center, including utilities that in some cases are part of the private sector. “This sets us up to interact and collect information as quickly as possible. When there’s an emergency, the [operations] center coordinates the response using the various incident command centers in the disaster area,” he said. This year, the entire contingent of government staff — both uniformed and civilian — that gathered at the center ensured the safe passage of 155,000 drivers traveling up and down the Pan-American Highway, as per the tallies registered as of carnival Monday. Similarly, the Joint Interagency Task Force reported that they supervised and supported 4,515 boats that disembarked from local ports with 51,781 people aboard. This nationwide deployment of personnel successfully reduced criminal activity, despite the mass movement of people over the carnival holiday. This opportunity for all the agencies to coordinate their operations prepares them to provide rapid and effective responses to all kinds of emergencies. “The benefits of working this way were made clear in November 2016 when Hurricane Otto blew through Panama. Thanks to this joint effort, governmental agencies mounted a better response,” Deputy Commissioner Félix Kirven, SENAN’s coordinator for Joint Interagency Task Force Neptune, told Diálogo. “This system can be applied to both security duties and humanitarian assistance.” “We don’t work in isolation, which allows us to respond rapidly and efficiently to these major events,” he said, highlighting the fact that integrating the different government agencies allows for the direct coordination needed to accomplish any task that needs to be performed. “This also allows us to improve the quality of public safety services nationwide and their coverage too, since we can respond to any situation anywhere in the country,” Deputy Commissioner Kirven stated. “This coordination between agencies keeps us from duplicating our efforts since our personnel is distributed more efficiently,” Alvarado echoed. In its latest press release, the Joint Interagency Task Force confirmed that in 2017 it managed to reduce the fatality rate by 61 percent compared to 2016 among the 464,000 people that traveled within the country’s mainland and its islands. The release states that “in the 49 aquatic coverage zones, 146,643 travelers were served and no drowning victims were recorded. Due to prevention efforts, the number of forest fires dropped by 30 percent.” “Statistics from the Emergency Operations Center in Aguadulce showed two fatality victims on the carnival parade route and 11 outside the coverage zones,” the Joint Interagency Task Force concluded. The annual joint effort has allowed institutions and agencies to train their personnel in coordination mode, which allows them to integrate similar teams to engage in the tireless fight against crime and to provide humanitarian assistance.