NEWS | Nov. 19, 2009

U.S., Salvadoran team works together to assess damage in flood-stricken El Salvador

By 1st Lt. Jen Richard Joint Task Force-Bravo Public Affairs

If two heads are better than one, then several expert minds from different countries must be even better. Put a team of U.S. and Salvadoran engineers together, along with some state-of-the-art equipment from U.S. Southern Command, and you have a force capable of providing critical assessments of the damage done by the recent torrential rains that flooded El Salvador.

Six team members from U.S. SOUTHCOM engineering office and Standing Joint Force Headquarters (SJFHQ) Element and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) are currently supporting El Salvador's Ministry of Public Works, in cooperation with other agencies like the Salvadoran Armed Forces Engineering Command, Salvadoran Civil Protection and the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance. Together, the team is assessing the flood damage caused by landslides to El Salvador's channels and bridges.

The assessment team has evaluated twenty bridges throughout El Salvador, in rural areas and in flood damaged-cities like Verapaz. The team has also conducted damage assessment on the drainage system at Lake Ilopango, the country's largest lake, located near the capital city, San Salvador. Assessments include aerial reconnaissance, with air support provided by Joint Task Force-Bravo helicopters, as well as on-the-ground evaluations.

The synergy among the combined U.S. and Salvadoran assessment team is beneficial for all. The engineers led by U.S. SOUTHCOM rely on their Salvadoran counterparts for knowledge of the damage sites and their local expertise. The engineers from U.S. SOUTHCOM contribute analysis and recommendations to the Salvadoran team members, providing a more comprehensive assessment.

"The problems at these damage sites are very complex, so it is very helpful to do our technical assessments with the help of U.S. SOUTHCOM engineers," said Alberto Colorado, Salvadoran Ministry of Public Works.

U.S. SOUTHCOM is also contributing the use of high-tech equipment to the damage assessment efforts in El Salvador. The team is using the Automated Route Reconnaissance Kit, or ARRK, carrying it on both ground vehicles and in helicopters, to gather useful data and imagery of the damaged sites.

The ARRK, developed by the USACE's Engineering Research and Development Center, is an easy-to-use system that provides a safe, quick way to gather and process data. The person operating the ARRK uses a laptop, connected to a digital camera, to collect information and input notes with any points of interest along the route. The ARRK collects pictures, voice recordings, Global Positioning System locations and more--all data that can be compiled and presented in an easily understood format. During this assessment, the ARRK was operated by a member of the U.S. SOUTHCOM SJFHQ and a member from USACE's Mobile District.

After gathering all the necessary data from the damaged sites, U.S. SOUTHCOM engineers will compile a detailed assessment to provide to El Salvador's Ministry of Public Works.

"We will provide data and some recommendations for repairing the damage," said Lt. Col. Anthony Higdon, Chief of the Central America Engineer Team at U.S. SOUTHCOM and the assessment team's leader. "We will send this information up through our chain of command in the U.S. government and, of course, to the decision-makers in El Salvador's government."

El Salvador's Ministry of Public Works is more than ready to begin damage repairs; the reconstruction efforts have already begun in places like Lake Ilopango's drainage system. With the reports provided by the combined U.S., Salvadoran damage assessment team, El Salvador will be one step closer to returning to pre-flood conditions.