In mid-December 2017, the U.S. government, through U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), presented Honduras with a large donation of communication technology equipment to strengthen their natural disaster, emergency readiness, and response capacities. SOUTHCOM made the donation, valued at $500,000, through its Humanitarian Assistance Program to the Permanent Contingency Commission of Honduras (COPECO, in Spanish).
The communication technology equipment, delivered on December 15th, will strengthen Honduras’s National Emergency Network. The donation will help reduce the nation's dependence on outside assistance during natural disasters.
The donation consists of 20 digital communication relays, two microwave link systems (with a total of 18 links), four computers, 25 mobile radio communication systems, 35 portable radios, 40 microphones, two multi-unit chargers, and 10 radio repair kits.
“In 2016, COPECO solicited help from the U.S. government to complement the efforts of the central government for the implementation of a national communication network,” Nelly Jerez, deputy commissioner of COPECO, told Diálogo. “With this donation, COPECO's seven regional offices will be linked at the national level to give the people a more efficient and effective response, particularly during emergencies.”
Created in 2012, the National Emergency Network comprises COPECO, the Armed Forces of Honduras, the Fire Department, the National Emergency System (911), the Red Cross, and the Green Cross. The network also connects two local communication networks, the Local Communications Committee, and the Municipal Emergency Committee.
“The National Emergency Network is one of the tools that saves lives,” General (R) Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya, Honduran Secretary of Defense, told Diálogo. “During an emergency or disaster, it is a secure alternative to rely on fluid communication via VHF radios. Added to radio communication technology, plus the permanent monitoring, we achieve effective risk management, with effective responses on the part of our support and aid teams in affected areas.”
COPECO has military origins. It dates back to the tragedy of Hurricane Fifi in 1974, which left more than 8,000 dead. Under the aegis of the Armed Forces of Honduras, the Permanent Emergency Council (COPEN, in Spanish), created the year before, was put to the test and provided assistance to victims in devastated areas. In 1990, COPEN became COPECO to lay the foundations for a modern institution to organize, coordinate, and direct public and private disaster response organizations.
The Armed Forces of Honduras coordinates its work with COPECO through the Humanitarian Rescue Unit (UHR, in Spanish). During its last regional action in September 2017, the UHR mobilized units to Mexico to provide support after the earthquake.
Technological tools of communication
The donation will benefit the 18 Honduran departments through COPECO's seven regional offices. The two communications systems will allow Internet connectivity, and serve to generate a data connection (transmitting and receiving signals) and create a national network.
“The first test for the equipment begins in January 2018, so all the communities will be 100 percent linked at the national level,” Lester Octavio Carias Arias, COPECO director of Information Technology and Communications, told Diálogo. “Once installed, they will provide all the benefits of a digital system, and it will be possible to send text messages, GPS location with each radio communicator, check the status and function of the relays, and connect telephone calls from a digital plant to a radio communicator.”
According to Carias, the computers will be used to program the equipment and monitor the network daily. “From January to April , the personnel who will be operating the [equipment] will receive training to ensure its proper use,” he added. “Fifty people will be trained, 45 will receive basic training, and five will be in advanced training.”
The project began in January with the installation of the first links in Francisco Morazán department, where COPECO's central office is located. The last department to connect will be Ocotepeque, which borders Guatemala and El Salvador.
“We recognize that, with the provision of the technological equipment from SOUTHCOM, the network installed in COPECO is complete at the national level, which will be of great help to our country,” Gen. Díaz concluded. “We are grateful for this grand gesture the U.S. government has made through SOUTHCOM.”