It has been a busy month for the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) community in the Americas. On 17 November, Bomberos de Chile USAR Team successfully finished an intensive 36-hour INSARAG field exercise and classified as a medium team in accordance with the INSARAG guidelines. Consisting of 179 volunteer firefighters from all over the country, it was the first country in Latin America and the 51st in the world to successfully undergo an IEC. The team was mentored by Joseph Anthony Bishop from the UK, while a professional group of experts from Switzerland, Spain, France, Germany and the US participated in INSARAG’s flagship and unique peer review and quality assurance process.

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Credit: Bomberos de Chile

The following week, Argentina organized a national earthquake Simulation exercise. From 21 to 23 November, USAR teams from across the country, as well as other countries in the region came to the city of Bariloche to respond to a simulated 8.6M earthquake. The exercise, referred to as SIMEX, tested national protocols and procedures to coordinate national response and receive international assistance. Bariloche lies 220 km from the site of the strongest earthquake ever recorded, the 9.5M earthquake, which shook the Chilean town of Valdivia on 22 May, 1960 and caused a large-scale tsunami in the lake Nahuel Huapi overwhelming the city’s port. The Secretary of the Argentinian Civil Protection and the President of the White Helmets Commission signed a legal framework establishing a national accreditation process in the country.

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Processes of accreditation of national USAR teams were at the centre of the conversations during the 16th Meeting of the INSARAG Americas Regional Group, hosted by the Ecuadorian Secretariat of Risk Management from 29 to 30 November in the city of Guayaquil. Over 40 participants from 16 countries discussed a variety of issues relating to search and rescue policy and operations, and agreed to a number of engagements in 2018. The regional Chairmanship was handed over to Mexico, which will lead the development of the regional work plan for next year during the Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week in February in Geneva.

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The first week of December brought 24 USAR team members, operational officers of national disaster management offices and UNDAC team members from across the continent together for the first USAR Coordination Course in Spanish, held at the Centralamerican Search and Rescue Academy in San Jose, Costa Rica. The participants dived into the technical aspects of INSARAG USAR coordination methodology, putting knowledge to practice in two practical exercises and a full-fledged Simulation Exercise, during which they established and reported to a Reception and Departure Centre and a USAR Coordination Cell.

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