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Colombian soldiers committed in disaster response operations
April 03, 2013
Because of the constant risks in terms of natural disasters in Colombia and to face them in a way such that human and material losses go to minimum, the national government, through Decree No. 919 of May 1, 1989, created the National System for Disaster Response and Prevention.
Based on this, they made the decision to create five commissions: National Committee for Disaster Response and Prevention, National Technical Committee, National Operational Committee, Regional Committees and Local Committees for Disaster Response and Prevention.
For a better use and communication among these teams, there are coordination mechanisms and guidelines for the links among the Presidents National Directorate for Disaster Response and Prevention, the Ministry of National Defense, Colombian Military Forces (COLMIL), Colombian Army, Ministry of Health, Civil Defense, Colombian Red Cross and other state entities engaged in emergency situations.
Consequently, Colombian Army decided to involve actively in this national goal by creating the Risk Management Directorate for Disaster Response and Consolidation, through which mechanisms are created for the timely action of the Army before, during and after an emergency.
Notwithstanding, the country is exposed to two kinds of risk: terrorist attempts against civil population or economic framework and force majeure.
Having said so, and in order to minimize risks, the Institution has designed and contingency, support, security and control plan in areas affected by natural disasters and emergencies for rehabilitation, reconstruction and development.
Whenever a disaster or emergency situation is declared at national, regional or local level, all committees are put into operation.
Colombian Army, along with the National Directorate for Disaster Response and all civil and state agencies engaged in Disaster Response and Prevention, states military area control and use all its resources to prevent illegal actions that may endanger public order. Its mission is to protect civil population and secure economic sectors and vital points. Also, it facilitates evacuation plans for civil population in case of natural disaster or terrorist action.
Contingency Plan of the Army
It is worth to say that, besides the contingency plan designed by the Army for force majeure emergencies, the Institution and the country have the first Disaster Response Battalion Brigadier General Álvaro López Vargas, established in October last year in order to provide medical and humanitarian assistance to personnel damaged by a natural disaster.
In any case of national, regional or local emergency, the Military Commander of the zone may activate the Operations Center composed by Military Medical, Operations, Intelligence and Integral Action personnel in order to direct all response activities and:
a. To coordinate with the Army Aviation Brigade, the air support as required to transport Medical corps to the disaster area, as well as the evacuation of injured personnel to other cities.
b. In coordination with Army Medical facilities, hospitals and medical centers of the region, to put into operation the contingency plan to evacuate injured personnel from the emergency area to the assigned medical facilities. To do so, it is needed to have availability in personnel, materials and transportation means.
c. To coordinate with the Medical Battalion and the Logistics Brigade, the readiness of surgery mobile equipment and field hospitals, as required.
d. To coordinate the availability, displacement and assistance activities of psychological first aid to victims.
e. To plan activities for rescue and evacuation of victims via land, fluvial, maritime or air means, centralizing all coordination for air means through the Operations Directorate.
f. To coordinate with the Transportation Battalion, all motorized movement required for personnel and materials.
g. To cooperate with the Directorate of Disaster Response and Prevention in locating and operating supplies reception, classification, storage and distribution posts.
h. To help the Directorate of Disaster Response with evaluating damages and census in order to quantify the catastrophe for rehabilitation purposes.
i. To assign broadcasting systems in the area as support for spreading information.
j. The frequencies and means to be used shall be coordinated by the Army Communications Directorate and they shall be responsible for ensuring communications at any time and place.
k. The plan shall be executed under strict security measures to ensure protection of civil population, economic sectors and vital points to facilitate evacuation of personnel damaged by a natural disaster o terrorist action.
It is important to notice that this protocol above is executed by following these phases: the first stage, Green, is considered as normal, situation analysis and planning. In this period the Law Enforcement Agencies, in coordination with National Directorate of Disaster Response continue to execute the routine personnel and installations security and protection plans of the involved area.
The second stage is the Yellow phase, which adopts preventive measures when alarms are activated. Here, the initial phase of the contingency phase is activated. Law Enforcement Agencies assume special control and security measures.
The last stage is the Red phase, which is begun when the magnitude of the disaster is known. In this time, military units are under maximum alert, depending on the disaster magnitude and get ready to provide support as required: assist civil population, prevent criminal actions and preserve law in the zone.
Military Communications: a main factor for crisis handling
Besides the contingency plan designed by the Colombian Army to look after the disaster situation as caused by force majeure or terrorist acts, the Institution has designed a parallel procedure to facilitate communications permanently and secure the link between HQs and Subordinate Units for control and command.
Coordination is made between Divisions, Brigades or Battalions and Police departments with other state agencies to define frequencies, indicatives, directories of microwave and land lines to facilitate the communications plan projection and execution in disaster or emergency situations.
Within coordination, it is required to implement a communications mean in the Emergency Operations Centers, located at military installations, and another for the Disaster Response Committee as a link for security and support requirements.
Besides the technical portion, it is required to adopt security measures embracing vital points and critical areas to ensure normal flow of communications.
In extreme situations, for instance when communications (land lines and cell phones) are blocked because of the disaster magnitude, the Army has a microwave telephone network that should act as a communications bridge between COLMIL, National Police and state agencies.