How Mexico’s army builds resilience
By Brigitte Leoni
MEXICO, 14 March, 2017 - Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the southern USA, 200 Mexican troops crossed the US border outside Laredo, Texas, and made their way towards San Antonio. It was the first time a Mexican army contingent had entered Texas since the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
In 2005, the Mexican soldiers were on a relief mission to feed tens of thousands of homeless and hungry Americans displaced by Hurricane Katrina. They stayed 20 days at the former Kelly Air Force Base in Texas, one of the first American states in the USA to rescue thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees.
“We served more than 170,000 meals and distributed more than 184,000 tons of supplies including medical supplies,” recalled Colonel Ignacio Murillo Rodriguez of the Mexican Ministry of Defense SEDENA.
“We came with a big tractor trailer that we immediately converted into a huge field kitchen. At the time, thousands of hurricane survivors had moved to Texas and were living in a very precarious situation with no job and no revenues, and we were able to help them serving meals, and water and generally assist them. It was quite an incredible experience that really made our reputation abroad. Our food trucks are very well known by now and today constitute a major element of our emergency capacities,” said Colonel Rodriquez.
Created in 1966, the Mexican Plan to Aid Civilian Disaster, known as DN-III-E, is a series of measures to be implemented primarily by the Mexican Army and the Mexican Air Force, organized as a body under the name of Support Force for Disaster. It operates mostly in disaster emergency situations occurring in Mexico but not exclusively.
“We have now trained many troops in Spain, Belize, Venezuela, and Ecuador and our force has acquired a very established reputation in terms of capacity building,” says Captain Alejandro Velasquez Valdicisco.
The DN-III-E has three main roles: prevention, protection and recovery and it is part of the Federal Response Master Plan dealing with major contingencies and emergencies in Mexico.
The prevention plan better known as the MX Plan coordinates and articulates the response in all national instances when an emergency happens. It embraces the Navy Plan and the Civilian Population Support Plan of the Federal Police, as well as the plans of government agencies and public entities such as PEMEX, the Federal Electricity Commission and CONAGUA ( water agency).
"We have the responsibility to rescue people, to manage shelters, to make recommendations to populations at risk and to guarantee the safety and security of affected disaster areas. Every soldier or person working for the Mexican army receives a special training to protect civilians. We actually do not have a special unit to deal with emergency situations as armed forces are all trained to protect civilians when disasters happen,” said Captain Alejandro Velasquez Valdicisco.
Mexicans remember the role played by the Ministry of Defense when Volcano Colima erupted in October 2016 forcing hundreds of people to evacuate. They worked long hours with the Civil Protection and were able to relocate hundreds of people at risk.
The same happened during the 2007 floods that affected more than 1 million people in the south-eastern Mexican state of Tabasco. More than 13,000 soldiers were deployed in the flooding areas to help evacuating populations from 13 municipalities.
The Ministry of Defense is also involved in the surveillance of the Popocatépetl volcano and plays a direct early warning role to alert and protect the main communities of Puebla, Morelos, State of México, Tlaxcala and Mexico City when volcano activities increase.
"We know that we will have more work to do in the future as climate change is already creating new disaster risks. We are aware of these new challenges and we are already training our forces to work more with municipalities so they can be better prepared in the future. Municipalities are our first allies and the first to respond to disasters,” said Colonel Ignacio Murillo Rodriguez.
In 2015, a total of 1,134 out of 2,438 municipalities declared an emergency situation in Mexico. 97.9 per cent were due to weather related situation, confirms a report from CENAPRED.
The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that will be held in Cancun next May will be another opportunity for Mexico to showcase its expertise in managing disaster risks and its progress toward the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which sets the year 2030 as a main deadline to make countries and communities more resilient against disasters.