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News | Sept. 9, 2021

JTF-Bravo strengthens partnerships in Central America through disaster response exchange

By Maria Pinel Public Affairs, Joint Task Force-Bravo

Joint Task Force-Bravo, based out of Soto Cano Air Base, Honduras, conducted a disaster response subject matter expert exchange with emergency response representatives from Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador, Aug 30 - Sept 9. 

This joint training brought together government, military and civilian first responder organizations to discuss best practices and lessons learned on disaster response, with the purpose of establishing personal relationships across multiple organizations between the men and women working together in an actual disaster, to develop a common operating picture and rehearsing coordination needed to respond to complex regional disasters.

The recent exchange began in Panama where the JTF-Bravo team met with representatives from the Panamanian public forces, International Red Cross Federation, Fire Department and National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) for a two-day exercise at the National Emergency Operations Center in Panama City. The training scenario involved a massive flood within the region where the Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) would request Department of Defense support from JTF-Bravo. 

“We are the third country chosen to conduct this table top exercise to strengthen our response capacity and humanitarian assistance to benefit the most vulnerable populations in this country,” said Carlos Rumbo, SINAPROC General Director. “For SINAPROC it’s an honor to be working with JTF-Bravo. They are a specialized force that has provided humanitarian assistance to many countries throughout Central America and the Caribbean.”

The JTF-Bravo team, comprised of civil affairs, engineering, operations, logistics, and airfield operations experts, led by U.S. Army Lt. Col. Achim Biller, JTF-Bravo civil affairs director, later traveled to Costa Rica to learn more about the National Emergency Commission’s capabilities and structure, to gain an understanding of how the country would react to the different emergencies that threaten it, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes or tsunamis.

“Disasters in this region can be exceptionally large and fast, so it’s important that we are prepared for the next disaster. One of our main objectives is to have a better understanding among each other to ensure we can respond rapidly,” said Biller when discussing the history of support JTF-Bravo has provided to different disasters in the region. “Clear communication between partners can save lives, alleviate suffering and speed up recovery.”

Costa Rican emergency response leaders also took the Task Force representatives on a tour of their Emergency Operations Center and Fire Department training facilities to further demonstrate their capabilities and main operations.

“It’s very important to conduct this type of exchange from a regional perspective, not just from the perspective of Costa Rican and U.S. relations. We extend our gratitude for this opportunity to strengthen civil-military cooperation and to sit down and evaluate our capabilities, and to get know each other better. This will make our responses much more effective,” said Alexander Solís Delgado, president of the Costa Rican National Emergency Commission. 

The sequence of briefs involved all countries discussing lessons learned from recent disaster responses to build on past experiences and develop better strategies. Additional discussions included the planning tasking matrix the BHA uses when requesting Department of Defense support, crisis communications in order to synchronize strategies as the disaster develops, and the use of common platforms to facilitate the sharing of information between all partners.  

The exercise itself involved discussions around regional responses and mobilization of assets from all participating agencies within each country to gain an understanding of strengths, response timelines, capabilities and identifying where there is room for improvements based on the different scenarios that were introduced as the exercise developed, which varied from power outages in major cities to infrastructure damages, to search and rescue operations.  

The Coordination Center for Disaster Prevention in Central America and the Dominican Republic known as CEPREDENAC, is a multi-government organization that promotes international cooperation and information exchange for the prevention, mitigation, response and recovery of disasters in the region, which all participating nations are members of.

While in El Salvador, the exercise included the participation from CEPREDENAC’s executive director, Ms. Claudia Herrera, who also explained the organization's role and importance in emergency responses, as well as representatives from the Salvadoran National Civil Protection Directory, Army, Fire Department and Police.  

“One of our priorities in CEPREDENAC is to strengthen civil-military relations by working through the Central American Integration System, and we are working to reinforce coordination efforts, activities and protocols to enable us to better work together during a disaster. JTF-Bravo has been a strategic partner for us,” said Herrera during her participation in El Salvador.

Previous iterations of this table top exercise were conducted in Guatemala and Honduras and the Task Force plans to conduct the exercise in Belize in the following weeks to conclude the exchange with all Central American partners.

As the U.S. Southern Command’s forward response agency in Central America, JTF-Bravo has stood by its partners when disasters have devastated the region and also actively supports Department of Defense efforts within the area of operations.