Honduras and Puerto Rico exchanged emergency management experiences when a group of Military representatives and civilians from the Central American country visited the facilities of the Puerto Rico National Guard (PRNG) in late January.
Retired Brigadier General Carlos Cordero, the National Commissioner of the Permanent Contingency Commission (COPECO for its Spanish acronym), commanded the 40-member Honduran interagency delegation. The group included members of the COPECO Rapid Response Unit, the Humanitarian Response Unit of the Armed Forces, the National Police, the Fire Department, the Department of Health, and the Central American Corporation for Air Navigation Services. COPECO is the coordinator of the National Risk System, which is divided into seven regions covering the country's 18 departments and includes the cooperation of other institutions that have improved emergency management response times.
The delegation visited Puerto Rico's Federal Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) to study its response to threats involving hazardous materials and to analyze the Central American country's preparation for critical situations. “The support of the PRNG is very important for prevention and response activities, which help promote the training of citizens in risk management, creating a positive effect on the country’s prevention projects,” explained Commissioner Cordero, whose delegation also participated in a search and rescue workshop.
The COPECO delegation also visited the Fire Department of Puerto Rico, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Enhanced Response Force Package, which is a U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) unit. The visit occurred a week after SOUTHCOM Commander U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd went to Honduras to meet President Juan Orlando Hernández and Military officials from the Central American country.
State Partnership Program
The delegation's visit was made under the framework of the U.S. National Guard State Partnership Program. The program was established in 1993 to link the National Guards of the United States and its territories to other countries’ Armed Forces, expand cooperation in the defense of the United States, and strengthen Military partnerships. A number of U.S. states and territories have active partnerships with nations in South and Central America and the Caribbean.
“The meeting was based on the exchange of information about how to assist the government institutions that make up the program during emergencies,” Commissioner Cordero told Dialógo . The meeting was also attended by the coordinator of personnel recovery from the Security Cooperation Office of Honduras and members of the Soto Cano Air Base Joint Task Force Bravo’s Personnel Recovery Control Center.
Training to prevent and fight fires was a key component of the delegation's visit. Honduras is taking steps to decrease its vulnerability to forest fires due to the effects of climate change. Fires damaged 39,585 hectares of Honduran forest in 2015, according to figures from the National Human Rights Commissioner.
The January visit was not the first joint training session for Honduran firefighters. This past August, they participated in the Fire Guardians course, which focused on improving interoperability among fire departments from the United States, the Fire Department of Honduras (CBH), and the COPECO. The week-long training, which was led by the CBH and sponsored by the Office of Security Cooperation, was conducted according to the standards of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), adhering to international standards on the use and maintenance of personal protective equipment during the rescue of victims in collapsed structures. Belize and El Salvador are planning to join the program.
The NFPA’s international prestige ensures that developed and developing countries will maintain the same firefighting standards, which is why many countries have adopted these regulations. Within the framework of the 2016 Fire Guardians Program, Honduras is emphasizing training for new techniques to battle forest fires. “Honduras is preparing to become a logistics center for disaster relief and emergency management not only at the local and national levels but at the regional level,” Commissioner Cordero said.
Advanced training has helped Central American fire departments and security forces respond more quickly to emergency situations . Response times are better than they were in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch caused heavy flooding that collectively killed about 11,000 people in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. In Honduras, the regions most vulnerable to hurricanes and heavy rains are along the Atlantic coast, according to COPECO.
“The mobilization time in response to disasters has diminished,” Commissioner Cordero explained. “When Hurricane Mitch occurred in 1998, the response time was 48 hours. It was an important lesson. Now the preparation and organization has been improved nationwide, 20 years after that disaster, with plans for prevention, education, and training. Emergency operations centers are not the same. All departments along the Atlantic coast have their response plans and mitigation plans that will allow them to respond in emergencies.”