Wings to Respond to Natural Disasters

Wings to Respond to Natural Disasters

By Geraldine Cook/Diálogo
November 28, 2017

Defending the skies above Ecuador is not the Air Force’s only role. For Brigadier General Patricio Mora Escobar, commander of the Ecuadorian Air Force (FAE, per its Spanish acronym), maintaining domain over the nation’s airspace and conducting air operations to defend national sovereignty are essential duties. Yet the Ecuadorian Air Force is also well known for the humanitarian aid and support it provides in natural disasters—such as the earthquake that struck April 16th, 2016.

Strategic planning, modernization of the force, and international cooperation are priorities that keep Brig. Gen. Mora committed to the organization under his command. Brig. Gen. Mora spoke to Diálogo at the 2017 South American Air Chiefs Conference, held October 31st –November 3rd, at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. The air forces’ role in responding to natural disasters was the conference’s main theme.

Diálogo: Why is it important for FAE to participate in this conference?

Brigadier General Patricio Mora Escobar, commander of the Ecuadorian Air Force: We think the importance of our participation has to do with our experience with the earthquake of April 16th, 2016. Ecuador is a member of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces [SICOFAA]. When the earthquake struck, one of our options was to ask for this organization’s help and the response was immediate. That’s why it was important to be here and share our experience. At this event, we can analyze how to improve coordination to respond to natural disasters.

Diálogo: What is your assessment of the participation from South American air forces at this conference?

Brig. Gen. Mora: We’re very motivated because in the end, everything we do here will make for a timely and efficient coordination when our people need us. Everyone’s participation here is extremely important. In the end, we will take away recommendations on what is needed to improve integration in response to natural disasters.

Diálogo: With regard to the work of air forces in dealing with natural disasters, how was regional cooperation coordinated to respond to the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador?

Brig. Gen. Mora: It was an extraordinary effort—efficient, and above all, timely. When the earthquake struck, the air forces arrived immediately. It’s one thing to talk about it, but it’s something else to live it. I participated as a liaison between the political and military sides, coordinating all the tasks that had to be carried out during the disaster. As part of those efforts, I also flew in the aircraft of assisting partner nations and felt their solidarity. There was this sense that all men and women of the air forces that assisted us did so with affection. They did a great job, and it was tireless work. I think the feeling has left a permanent mark in our hearts as Ecuadorians.

Diálogo: Why is it important to discuss relations among air forces and their joint participation when responding to natural disasters? Is this a new topic?

Brig. Gen. Mora: In Ecuador, this was somehow a new issue, because we never had any large-scale natural disasters. But, in general, our armed forces have always coordinated with the civil sector to respond to natural disasters. In my country, we weren’t prepared to face an earthquake. We were prepared for volcanic eruptions and wildfires, but not earthquakes. This made us reflect and take action. Now, we have emergency response plans in place for earthquakes. We’ve improved our organization and structure. That’s how we learned that it’s important to coordinate with others and that’s why I’m here at this conference.

Diálogo: In your presentation on FAE, you spoke of SICOFAA as a vital tool for the nations in the region. Could you discuss that topic a bit further?

Brig. Gen. Mora: SICOFAA is vital. It’s an organization that’s been around for many years. Usually, we have an annual meeting where we talk among nations about how to improve collaboration and assistance among our air forces. This allowed us to have all the mechanisms we need to provide the humanitarian aid required when disasters strike. SICOFAA’s structure allows for rapid and efficient delivery of support when needed.

Diálogo: As 2017 comes to a close, what have FAE’s results been in terms of humanitarian aid?

Brig. Gen. Mora: We fulfilled our mission. Together with the other branches of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces, we assist and provide humanitarian aid. The Ecuadorian Air Force is continually involved with the most remote and vulnerable parts of the country, such as the Amazon region. We have programs such as Wings of Happiness that let needy children fly on our transport planes. Through that program, we bring moments of joy and entertainment. We also have the Wings of Health program, where our planes reach the most remote populations, bringing health brigades and delivering supplies.

Diálogo: What are Ecuador’s main security threats, and how does the Air Force contribute to combat them?

Brig. Gen. Mora: Our security problems are really new threats such as narcotrafficking. We provide assistance through an efficient airspace control system with radar and aircraft. This is the most important contribution to national security. Ecuador is a peaceful nation, and I believe that we are now in a good place.

Diálogo: What type of joint operations does FAE participate in with its regional partners?

Brig. Gen. Mora: We’re involved in exercises that are both military and humanitarian in nature, which is relevant and important lately. We strive to be integrated and coordinated. We have logistics agreements to get support for our aircraft. For instance, we have exchanges with the air forces of Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Peru.

Diálogo: Why is it important to cooperate with other air forces when responding to natural disasters?

Brig. Gen. Mora: Nations organize these kinds of events to discuss improving the use of our air forces to support our citizens. It’s not just about air forces’ solidarity; these meetings and conferences allow us to learn from the experiences of other air forces and make note of their experiences and lessons learned, which will be essential when the time comes to mobilize.