SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo's Central America Survey and Assessment Team (C-SAT) participated in a multi-national, intergovernmental disaster response exercise in Belize, Sept. 26-28.
The C-SAT is a rapidly deployable unit that provides United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) with the capability to define and tailor a U.S. Department of Defense response in support of U.S. government efforts to mitigate the effects of a disaster in Central America.
"The Central America Survey and Assessment Team is a SOUTHCOM asset out of Joint Task Force-Bravo," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alan McKewan, C-SAT Team Lead. "The team can deploy anywhere within Central America to assist the U.S country team and the whole of government approach to disaster relief. Our mission is to go forward and act as the eyes of the SOUTHCOM commander in assistance for disaster relief operations."
If a Central American nation requests U.S. support in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, the C-SAT will work to conduct assessments and make recommendations to support the initial U.S. government response efforts as well as the follow-on staging of military personnel to provide disaster relief.
The exercise marked the first time the C-SAT had deployed to Belize. For the exercise, the team worked with multiple military forces as well as disaster relief agencies to discuss and determine response actions in the event of a major hurricane.
"This is truly a joint, intergovernmental and multi-national operation," said McKewan. "We're working with the U.S. Embassy, the Belize Defence Forces, the Belize coast guard and members of the British military, as well as the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Belize National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO). We are all working together, operating and planning with the Belizean government for disaster relief."
Throughout the exercise, the different disaster relief organizations and militaries discussed resources, options for providing assistance, and plans of how to respond in the case of a disaster.
"Whenever you can work together and collaborate with your partners, you have an opportunity to learn," said Belize Defence Forces Maj. Charlton Roches, Force Operation Officer for the Belize Defence Forces. "Belize is a small country with limited resources, so the resources the C-SAT team can bring for us greatly amplifies our capabilities and enables us to be better prepared to serve our nation."
The exercise scenario of a large hurricane making landfall in Belize brought about in-depth discussion on the coordination of capabilities that could be made available by the different entities involved.
"Our first goal was to successfully deploy our team," said Maj. Emily Marr, current operations officer for the C-SAT. "Our second goal was to coordinate and plan with our country team and discover how we best integrate with them. And our final goal was to work with and make lasting ties with our partners in the Belize government."
Working through a disaster scenario with so many different national disaster relief entities allowed the team members to gain experience in how the organizations would coordinate in a real-world situation.
"It's a multi-national world that we live in and one nation can't do it all on their own," said Marr. "Bringing in our partner nations, the different organizations, the Belizeans, the British, it really helps us see the overall picture. When a disaster happens, it's going to be an international effort. The earlier we foster these working relationships the better."
McKewan said facilitating that discussion was a key success for the exercise scenario.
"Getting these different partner nations and militaries to start talking to each other about what would happen in the case of a major natural disaster, showing what their plans are and then bringing in what SOUTHCOM and Joint Task Force-Bravo can provide to assist those relief operations is tremendously important," he said.
The end result of this and other exercises like it is to foster relationships and develop the C-SAT's ability to coordinate with various disaster response entities to enhance the effectiveness of relief efforts in the event of a real world situation.
"The whole purpose of the C-SAT team and America's involvement in disaster relief is to take on the whole of government approach to alleviate human suffering," said McKewan. "Belize is a tremendous partner for us and it's important for us not only to come in and show what support we have been doing, but how we can do things in the future if there is a disaster and to be better prepared to respond."