NEWS | Sept. 23, 2013

South Carolina National Guard works with Colombia on emergency response

By Staff Sgt. Tracci Dorgan South Carolina National Guard

BOGOTA, Colombia - South Carolina National Guard (SCNG) operations and emergency response personnel met with leaders from the Colombian military and Colombia's National Disaster Response Unit, UNGRD, to discuss response procedures and policies.

The SCNG is working with the Colombian military as part of the State Partnership Program focusing on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This visit in Bogota, from Sept. 10-13, was the third engagement between the countries to share emergency response programs and to continue the friendship that began July 2012.

"The Colombian military and civilian emergency management agencies are dedicated to being prepared and postured to rapidly and effectively respond during a natural disaster," said Col. Kenneth Rosado, director of the SCNG joint operations center.

The first day was filled with presentations from the Colombian military emergency responders and the UNGRD. Each department presented its capabilities, how members have improved in the past few years and their plans for the future.

Working together, the SCNG, Colombian military and UNGRD shared programs, like the South Carolina Common Operating Picture Enhanced (SCOPE), to improve communication between all personnel and organizations responding to a disaster.

Col. Carlos Orozco, Colombian army, said there have been many years of "la nina," a meteorological event where the northern part of the country receives an abnormally large amount of rain. Areas remain flooded and main roads connecting jungle communities are washed out so people cannot bring in food or supplies. The Colombian military is working to help these communities rebuild the washed out roads and make them stronger in order to withstand the continuous rains.

Another focus of the Colombian military is to clear the jungles of mines left from conflicts in that nation. The Colombian army engineers demining battalion is trained to find and clear mines hidden in the jungles. This battalion is stationed in areas where the war violence has diminished so they can help the community rebuild and preserve the indigenous traditions.

"We look forward to working with you and learning from you," said Gerardo Jaramillo, UNGRD office chief. "Colombia is an area that shares some of the same natural occurrences as South Carolina, heavy rains causing flooding and hurricanes and we would like to develop a local plan to better react to these disasters and prevent severe damage. The Colombian people are our first priority; we need to work for them and with them."

On the second day of joint discussions, the SCNG team worked directly with the UNGRD, Colombian military representatives and the Red Cross in back and forth discussion of how the SCNG systems work.

Rosado presented how the SCNG prepares and reacts to emergencies throughout the state.

Using the SCOPE program, the SCNG can instantly know the working capabilities of local National Guard units, hospitals and shelters. They can view features like bridges to know how to direct an evacuation route or how to get emergency responders to the location needing assistance.

"By monitoring this system we can see what is going on and anticipate requirements," said Rosado.

"The SCOPE uses maps produced through Google Maps, then we add our own layers," said Sgt. Kasey Beymer, SCNG operations sergeant. "We keep a steady-state layer so we can monitor the normal, every-day status of S.C. We have to watch every day so we know when things change. Then we add the contingency layer when there are new events to respond to."

At the final meeting, Jaramillo thanked the SCNG for sharing its technical experience and for helping to bring all the groups together.

Jaramillo gave a presentation about the exciting opportunity to work with Google.org foundation, to develop a Google-based crisis information system, which will allow Colombians to access and share information and receive alerts on their computers and mobile devices.

According to Jaramillo, "Colombia was chosen by Google because we are a country that has risk management policy with institutional support. We have been working hard for many years and in the past two years we have made great steps in our processes that compliment how Google works."

Everyone involved participated in a diagram and brainstorming session, which ended in ideas for improvement in both systems.

"We exchanged ideas through a professional dialogue and increased everyone's capacity to respond during an emergency," said Rosado.