U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) led and sponsored the combined exercise Humanitarian Allied Forces 2019 (FAHUM, in Spanish), which was conducted May 6-17 in the Dominican Republic. The event gathered Humanitarian Rescue Units (UHR, in Spanish) from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and the United States to reinforce civil-military emergency and disaster response mechanisms through simulations.
“We are committed to improving and strengthening regional civil-military cooperation to respond to potential disaster scenarios,” said U.S. Army Brigadier General Irene Zoppi, SOUTHCOM representative and director of the Army Reserve Engagement Cell of U.S. Army South. “This commitment cannot stop; we must capture these experiences and turn them into normal educational and training procedures, applying them in the challenging situations that disasters will pose in the future.”
The exercises projected capabilities to execute rapid response operations in a multidisciplinary and international environment with SOUTHCOM. “With the operations conducted onsite, they reviewed plans, protocols, procedures, and regional mechanism for cooperation and coordination,” said Army Lieutenant General Rubén Darío Paulino, Dominican minister of Defense. “We provide an efficient response, share information, and assign tasks and roles based on capabilities in each situation.”
SOUTHCOM sponsors and organizes the exercise every year to update evacuation, rescue, and aid distribution procedures carried out through the military. “FAHUM embodies the solidarity among partner nations and citizens in natural disaster matters, to be prepared when reality exceeds our capabilities,” said Dominican Army Brigadier General Santo Domingo Guerrero, head of Planning and Operations for the Ministry of Defense’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Capitalizing on experiences
FAHUM 2019 focused on disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and large-scale earthquakes. The simulations were conducted at the Yuna River, Duarte province, and at Villa Escondida, home to the Dominican Republic Army 1st Infantry Brigade.
Simulated floods and earthquakes helped evaluate mechanisms for mass casualty classification, victim care in shelters, aid reception, medical response capabilities, and transport procedures to hospitals.
“Communication was lost for a while; this forced operational centers to seek alternative ways to communicate, get messages to communities, and assist the population,” said José Figueroa, FAHUM 2019 coordinator for SOUTHCOM. “So we evaluated procedures for search, rescue, evacuation, medical service, coordination, and verification of international humanitarian assistance.”
Teams specialized in armed forces and civil organizations’ emergency response evaluated the results of the simulations. Upon conclusion of the exercise, the teams submitted a report detailing successful experiences and opportunities for improvement to increase regional operational capabilities.
“It’s important that the population is involved to overcome the fear about these disasters; the best way is to learn to respond effectively,” said Army Brigadier General Juan Manuel Méndez, head of the Dominican Republic Emergency Operations Center.
Disasters without borders
FAHUM improves and strengthens civil-military hemispheric and regional cooperation to respond to different disaster situations. However, the challenges never end, and an emergency situation might involve more than one country.
“We must inspire our communities to be ready through prevention, environment self-management, and knowledge of geographical location and associated risks, because a disaster has no borders; it can impact not only a country, but also an entire region,” Brig. Gen. Zoppi concluded. “This requires an effective response for the whole affected region, and it will only be efficient if planning and training are done in advance.”