Chilean and U.S. Armed Forces Train Together to Prepare for Disasters

At the invitation of the Chilean Army’s Ground Operations Command (COT), a delegation from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), South Pacific Division, visited Chile for the first time to conduct training activities based on its Urban Search and Rescue Program, which the Military deploys in emergencies and disasters.
Carolina Contreras/ Diálogo | 6 July 2016

International Relations

Activities also included a field trip to the Chilean National Firefighter Academy’s facilities, where USACE personnel demonstrated the equipment they use to analyze collapsed buildings and how they work, while the Chilean Army SAR units demonstrated their work in search and rescue. [Photo: Chilean Army Ground Operations Command]

At the invitation of the Chilean Army’s Ground Operations Command (COT), a delegation from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), South Pacific Division, visited Chile for the first time to conduct training activities based on its Urban Search and Rescue Program, which the Military deploys in emergencies and disasters.

The joint operation took place within the framework of “Cycle for Sharing Experiences in Emergencies and Catastrophes with the United States Army – South/Corps of Engineers,” conducted June 6th-10th in an auditorium at the Chilean Army Engineering Command (CINGE) in Santiago.

“Disasters occur all over the world and it is important to know how to respond to these emergencies,” said Colonel Eric McFadden, USACE Deputy Commander, South Pacific Division. “This is an opportunity to exchange information regarding our organizations and take away anything that allows us to improve our response capabilities.”

Sharing experiences

As part of its annual program for Education, Instruction, and Training, COT scheduled this activity with USACE to learn about its experiences with employing emergency units in support of search and rescue during disasters, specifically in collapsed buildings. The activity was organized by Colonel Juan Jara Lamas, Chief of the First Planning Department, Chilean Army Ground Operations Command.

The U.S. delegation was led by Col. McFadden, and included a team of three engineers with structural expertise from the Search and Rescue (SAR) Team, who are members of the Task Forces available in the event of a national or international emergency. Tom Niedernhofer, an engineer and the head of the SAR program, was also part of the U.S. team.

The Chilean contingent included a group of 50 service members from the Engineering Command, specialists from various Army Planning and Execution Bureaus throughout the country, and guests from the Chilean Firefighter Search and Rescue team, who comprise a Task Force for catastrophes that occur in the Andean nation.

“This was mutual cooperation between the two Armies,” Col. Jara stated. “We held several lectures on how they operate in emergencies, which will doubtlessly be a significant contribution to our work.”

The subjects taught focused on evaluating damage to buildings as a result of catastrophes; safe entry to buildings; and how to ensure mobility in a disaster site, allowing for the rescue and lifesaving operations to take place. The lessons were based on doctrine, classroom training programs, and standards for operations in response to a structural collapse.

USACE members explained the work they performed in the past, such as the 1995 attack on a government building in Oklahoma City, the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City, or the assistance they rendered after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Using these cases as illustration, they explained how the Military units are organized, how work is coordinated with civilian corps of engineers, how the warning processes are employed, planning, and how all teams are integrated to assist in emergency and disaster situations.

“It was especially interesting to learn about the U.S. Army’s experiences to train our military teams for emergency events,” Col. Jaras explained.

Floods and earthquakes

Personnel from the Chilean Army Ground Operations Command and the Corps of Engineers spoke about their work during various national emergencies and catastrophes, such as floods and earthquakes. Master Sergeant José Gatica, a specialist in heavy machinery from the Chilean Army’s Horizontal Engineering Company, discussed his experiences during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

The exchange activities also included a field trip to the Chilean National Firefighters Academy, located 50 kilometers from Santiago. At the Academy, USACE personnel demonstrated the equipment they use to analyze collapsed structures and their work methods, while Chilean Army SAR units demonstrated their work in search and rescue.

“Though both Armies have similar capabilities in several respects, we approach the situations differently. The point is to be able to learn so as to respond better to disasters,” Col. McFadden said.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers consists of active-duty Military combat engineers and a corps of civilian engineers. USACE has 32,000 professionals throughout the United States who have been trained to respond to emergencies and disasters.

At the end of the lecture cycle, both countries’ delegations exchanged formal gifts and ceremonial salutes.

“It was an interesting experience professionally, but also interesting because it reinforced the bonds of friendship and camaraderie between the two Armies,” Col. McFadden stated.

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