SICOFAA, Ready for Natural Disaster Relief

SICOFAA, Ready for Natural Disaster Relief

By Geraldine Cook
January 13, 2020

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Diálogo interviewed U.S. Air Force Colonel Michael Ingersoll, secretary general of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, in Spanish), during a visit to the institution’s headquarters at Davis-Monthan Air Base in Tucson, Arizona.

Diálogo: What is SICOFAA’s operational focus?
U.S. Air Force Colonel Michael Ingersoll, secretary general of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces: The operational focus of SICOFAA is to respond to events that require humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. We are involved in a system of cooperation among 21 countries, and we have access to the Information Technology and Telecommunications System of the American Air Forces [SITFAA, in Spanish], as well as the Virtual Cooperation Platform known as SAVICO.

Diálogo: What is SICOFAA’s priority at the moment?
Col. Ingersoll: SICOFAA member nations are preparing for live exercise Cooperation VII [Cooperación VII], to be held in Rionegro, Colombia, in August 2020. The exercise Angel of the Andes [Ángel de los Andes] will also be conducted as part of this live exercise.

Diálogo: What is the objective in organizing these exercises?
Col. Ingersoll: Real-time exercises help us check how prepared we are to face an emergency, especially in a region like ours, which is prone to frequent natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, etc. The goal of SICOFAA is to organize live events to help standardize procedures in the Manual of Combined Air Operations, created to assist emergency situations, which contributes to improving interoperability, creating a common operational language, and implementing command and control operations. Exercises help reduce operational risks when using the resources of the different participating air forces. The most important benefit of these exercises is putting into practice the different tools SICOFAA has for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Diálogo: Can you tell us about a particular recent case when SICOFAA was activated?
Col. Ingersoll: Between August 21 and September 7 [2019], we activated the SAVICO platform to support the coordination of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief during the wildfires that occurred in the Amazon and that affected Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. Through SAVICO, 14 member nations shared information about the requirements of the countries affected by the wildfires. The result of this information contributed both to situational awareness and to facilitating coordination for the requested assistance, including equipment and resources.

Diálogo: Does SICOFAA need diplomatic authorization to be activated?
Col. Ingersoll: SICOFAA members can coordinate in advance the humanitarian assistance that the country that declared an emergency will require, but we require diplomatic approval to send equipment or personnel.

Diálogo: Does SICOFAA collaborate with non-member nations?
Col. Ingersoll: Yes. Some countries in the region are not part of the organization, but we assist them because they are neighboring countries. For example, we helped the Bahamas after the devastation of hurricane Dorian. On that occasion, SICOFAA provided coordination and established the flow of information between the governments of the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, which allowed resources to be quickly deployed to the affected island.

Diálogo: Has SICOFAA’s success expanded to other regions outside the Western Hemisphere?
Col. Ingersoll: Yes. Africa has asked us to share our experience and lessons learned. Three years ago, the Germany-based U.S. Air Forces Africa asked to know about our air cooperation system in detail. Since then, we have worked as a team, and from this collaboration the Association of African Air Forces [AAAF] arose. We helped them design their strategic plan, and we’re currently advising them for their first virtual humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise. The Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium also invited us to participate in its conferences.

Diálogo: Do you think the natural disasters that have occurred in recent years have sparked an interest from other countries in belonging to SICOFAA?
Col. Ingersoll: Yes. Costa Rica and Belize are SICOFAA observers, and we expect to make the corresponding coordination in the future to see the viability of their full participation in the system. Some Caribbean countries are also interested in getting involved in the organization, as is the case of the Bahamas with whom we are already in contact.