PANAMA CITY, Panama –
From earthquakes and volcanic activity to forest fires and tropical storms, the variety of natural disaster threats Central America faces constantly is endless.
From June 13-16, members of Joint Task Force-Bravo, located out of Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, traveled to Panama City to participate in a multi-national exercise aimed at finessing the relationships and processes that will be needed to work with regional partners during real-world emergencies.
Hosted by the Coordination Center for the Prevention of Disasters in Central America and the Dominican Republic (CEPREDENAC), the exercise brought 16 countries together with the goal of improving multinational capacities in the protection of life, humanitarian coordination, and joint response.
The exercise scenarios layered upon each other: a 7.5 magnitude earthquake and a tropical storm caused rainfall, flooding and critical infrastructure, while a cyber attack, oil spill and avian flu caused different types of chaos.
Participating countries included the United States, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina, among others.
Claudia Herrera, secretary of CEPREDENAC, said bringing together these countries to complete 19 planned scenarios allowed for a realistic look at how we would integrate and work together when an emergency occurs.
“A disaster doesn’t know about borders,” said Herrera. “We are going to have the opportunity to work together to identify … the vulnerabilities the Central America region faces every year. International assistance is very important for us to build our capacities. Prior to a disaster occurring, we can have the opportunity to identify our strengths and also our challenges.”
As one of U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) most deployable assets in Central America, the role of JTF-Bravo was two-fold. First, they were able to practice rapidly deploying its SOUTHCOM Situational Assessment Team’s (SSAT) in response to humanitarian or disaster response efforts across the region.
“As JTF-Bravo has been in the Central American region for 40 years, we have responded to assist our partners many times during disasters that have exceeded their national capacity to respond,” said U.S. Army Maj. Robert Mixon, director of J-9 (Civil-Military Operations) at JTF-Bravo. “By participating with 16 other nations in this scenario, together in the heat, rain, mud, and fatigue of 36 hours of continuous operations, we demonstrated that we are in this together and we will support our friends and neighbors as we have in the past; both in training and in times of need.
“The bonds formed during this scenario will transcend geographical boundaries and the relationships formed will serve to assist in a response that more efficiently and more expediently saves lives if disaster impacts in the future,” Mixon added.
Second, JTF-Bravo was able to provide liaison officers (LNOs) across several specialized fields to advise other partner nations during some of the scenarios, including a fire protection specialist, a Survival, Evade, Resistance and Escape specialist, and a doctor. These LNOs were able to observe and provide input before, during and after, about the methods used.
An extra bonus was a scenario that involved SOUTHCOM and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), something not exercised as often.
“We participated in the multinational coordination cell (MNCC) alongside Canada, Mexico, and NORTHCOM in a SOUTHCOM AOR response and that was an incredible experience to work with countries that we don’t normally operate alongside in this AOR,” said Mixon. “These exercises are truly invaluable and continuing to participate in them as much as we can only serves to better all of our national response capabilities benefitting those affected by disasters and vulnerable populations throughout the region.”
In the closing ceremony held June 16, U.S. Army Gen. Laura Richardson, SOUTHCOM commander, took the opportunity to thank all the partner nations for their coordination, cooperation and collective commitment to democracy and taking care of people.
“CEPREDENAC has increased the preparedness and resiliency of the region. Through its unwavering dedication to building a safer and more resilient world, CEPREDENAC has strengthened both relationships and civil-military cooperation,” said Richardson. “The efforts undertaken by CEPREDENAC over the course of the last 35 years are now more relevant than ever.
“It is because of this laser-focus vision and tireless efforts to enhance civil and military cooperation, and build regional humanitarian assistance and disaster response capacity,” she added. “You have and you will continue to save lives through this effort … please know that United States Southern Command is committed to being part of this effort.”