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Partnering in Disaster Response

Wednesday, December 9, 2009
(Left to right) Juan Salazar, president of Ministerio Social Methodista (MISOM), an ONEMI regional representative, Nancy Carmona, UMCOR’s translator, Melissa Crutchfield, assistant general secretary, UMCOR’s International Disaster Response, Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary, US Disaster Response, UMCOR and ONEMI Regional Director Guillermo de la Maza Ramirez.


I traveled to Chile recently and helped lead a disaster preparedness training for the Methodist Church of Chile’s “UMCOR”: Equipo Metodista de Acción Humanitaria (EMAH). The three-day workshop focused on the basics of disaster response and humanitarian standards, as well as networking with local partners.

A highlight of the trip for me was two days spent with Gobierno De Chile, Oficina Nacional De Emergencia, Ministerio Del Interior (ONEMI) or Chile’s National Office of Emergency, Department of the Interior which is their version of “FEMA.” We got an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how ONEMI works on the national, regional and local levels.

We visited the Emergency Operations Center in Santiago, which runs 24/7 when there is an event anywhere in the country. The video screens, work stations, computers and phones are very much like any here in the U.S. In fact, their system is based on recommendations from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

In the coastal town of Valparaiso, under the guidance of Regional Director Guillermo de la Maza Ramirez, we visited many sites and departments that all fall under ONEMI. We met with teams responsible for monitoring tsunamis and pollution content in the ocean off the coast of Chile. It was amazing to see how they could take a sample of polluted ocean water and trace it back to a specific ocean-going vessel. We visited the Valparaiso Port Authority, where they briefed us on operations and plans underway which will make it a world-class port.

Unlike the U.S., emergency services, such as ambulances, police and fire service, also fall under the jurisdiction of ONEMI. We were privileged to visit the operation centers for each and meet the men and women who answer the call to protect and respond when emergencies happen, no matter the cause.

Our second day ended on a boat ride with the coast guard stationed in Valparaiso, and, as we crashed through the waves, I reflected on all that I had seen and experienced. To me, one of the most impressive aspects was the fact that Chile’s fire departments and coast guard are all volunteer. From the highest ranking officers to the newest beginner, all who risk their lives to fight fires and provide daring sea rescue are non-paid volunteers. When we spoke of the use of volunteers and their value to UMCOR’s ministry of disaster response, the people of Chile knew and understood perfectly. They know what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ when there is trouble.

I am excited about our emerging partnership between UMCOR and EMAH. Our brothers and sisters are eager to engage in the ministry of disaster response. The Methodist Church of Chile has tremendous capacity; it will be a great partner as together we respond to the needs of emergencies throughout Latin America.

By Tom Hazelwood, Assistant General Secretary for US Disaster Response, UMCOR

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