In February 2012, four Chilean representatives from the National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry (ONEMI – Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior), Chile’s equivalent to FEMA, and eight Mexican representatives from various agencies with emergency management functions traveled to the United States to participate in the Master Exercise Practitioner Program at the Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Md. The course was designed to help the Mexicans prepare for their own tabletop exercise to be hosted in Mexico City in September and to help the Chileans prepare for the Tsunami Table Top Exercise (TTX) in Valparaiso in May, as well as the Peru-Chile Functional Exercise in August. This was the first time the MEPP course was taught exclusively in Spanish by instructors from FEMA International Affairs, Customs and Border Patrol - El Paso Sector, and EMI and specifically tailored to the requirements of these delegations.
During the course, students learned about the National Response Framework, the National Incident Management System, national preparedness guidelines, as well as the exercise planning cycle and how to develop, run, and evaluate an exercise. Workshops and simulations reinforced the material presented by instructors and encouraged collaboration and interaction among participants. The students really enjoyed the simulation cells because they were able to take advantage of the facilities and technology to conduct live exercises and make the scenarios more realistic.
Both the Chileans and Mexicans were very interested in exploring a scenario similar to the one experienced by Japan in March 2011 with a high magnitude earthquake followed by a tsunami when they were developing their own TTX exercises. The Chileans developed an earthquake and tsunami scenario while the Mexicans chose to work with floods and an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The most common hazard for both countries is floods while earthquakes and a potential tsunami would be the most catastrophic scenario. Each country also brought their national earthquake plans to test during the course.
Examples of tabletop exercises performed by other organizations were pulled from the Lessons Learned Information Sharing network and disseminated to the students so that they could have workable templates, guidelines, and exercise examples to work with when developing their own exercises. Students found the exercise design structure to be the most useful part of the course and are definitely more confident in their abilities to use Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program tools to develop and design exercises.
In addition to the MEPP course, the Chilean students were able to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in official activities that highlighted the Chilean-American relationship. They attended a panel discussion on “America’s Role in the Rescue of the Chilean Miners” at the National Museum of Natural History and a Chilean embassy event at the Smithsonian American Art Museum which celebrated 200 years of friendship between Chile and the United States. Both events allowed the students to network with both Chilean and American officials as well as celebrate the relationship between these two countries and their accomplishments.