U.S. military and civilian personnel from Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Honduran Armed Forces, the Honduran Permanent Contingency Committee (COPECO, in Spanish) and Honduras’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Services (INSEP, in Spanish), conducted a joint training to enhance disaster response readiness, July 12-14.
Day one covered lessons learned from last year’s responses to hurricanes Eta and Iota, from both COPECO and JTF-Bravo, and also an academic portion on crisis communication. The following two days of training involved a disaster response scenario based on Hurricane Mitch, a historical event that occurred in 1998 which devastated Honduras and critically affected Central America, much like the recent hurricanes.
JTF-Bravo facilitated personnel ranging from engineers, civil affairs, public affairs, aviation, communications, medical planners, and logistics to engage with local counterparts.
“One of our main objectives is to ensure that we know who our partners are when responding to a disaster and what we can do together. This is a learning event, not a test, and we are here to ask the right questions,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Achim Biller, JTF-Bravo J9 director. “This must be a long-lasting effort, something we do annually, and we hope to see it led by COPECO and the Honduran Armed Forces in the future. We have limited resources, but in partnership we can save lives and speed up recovery efforts.”
Representatives from first responder organizations built relationships during the three-day training as they were divided into groups to discuss which steps each organization would take during the different stages of the disaster, from initial landfall to recovery efforts. The teams also discussed digital platforms created after last year’s events to facilitate the sharing and consolidation of information.
“These kinds of platforms are very useful in the end, as we saw with Eta and Iota, when it comes to coordinating a response,” said Yanci López, COPECO chief of operations. “We are looking forward to learning about the one [JTF-Bravo] has been using as well. The end goal is to find a common one that all agencies across a response can use.”
As the training evolved, participants had to decide who and which resources would be needed, where they would place their assets, who would be the authorities leading the response, and when international assistance would be called upon. The teams also emphasized the importance of the flow of information, improvements in communication, and awareness of capabilities from all agencies based on past events, and identified a need to have a JTF-Bravo liaison at COPECO in the event of a disaster, as well as geotagging and photo sharing capabilities on a common digital platform.
“Our goal is always to get the right assistance to the right people at the right time,” said the USAID Civil-Military Operations Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance representative. “If we get this information to all agencies, we are better able to make that happen. Continued communication across all parties is critical.”
After completing the training, participants gained an awareness of what each organization can bring to the table when a disaster strikes and developed a relationship that will make them better prepared to face the challenges ahead, if called upon to respond in support of the Honduran people, together.
“Thank you for giving us this opportunity to come and share this relationship-building event with you today. Central America is a region that is vulnerable to natural disasters and our joint and combined exercises prepare us and our partners for real-world responses in the future,” said U.S. Army Colonel Steven Gventer, JTF-Bravo commander, during his remarks. “Building strength and trust allows us to have a quicker response, and the partnership we share here will continue for many years.”