The U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo has a long history of engaging our Dominican partners.
By: William Medina
The U.S. government (USG) has enabled the Emergency Operations Center (COE) to be ready to respond to a natural disaster or an unforeseen emergency such as COVID-19 through its various programs, trainings and donations. Both the Office for Security Cooperation (OSC) and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have engaged the COE through several initiatives. For example, the COE was the main partner during the Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2019, May 15, 2019 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. FA-HUM 19 is a U.S. Army South-sponsored foreign humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercise designed to build U.S. partner nation’s capacity for civil and military response to major disasters. COE hosted various other countries in the region for the practice, and trainings were led by the U.S. Army.
They are also the main partner for USAID, on disaster response. In November 2018, Ambassador Bernstein visited the COE and announced the donations of computer systems by USAID and training in geolocation and handling of information flow and storage. In June 2017, USAID sponsored the design of a new application called AlertCOE that will allow alerts issued by the Emergency Operations Center (COE) to be received by smartphone users. In 2019, USAID continued to support COE with the improvement and expansion of the AlertCOE application to accommodate a larger number of users.
Colonel Edwin Olivares is Deputy Director of COE and sat down with the U.S. Embassy for an interview about how the USG partnership has assisted in helping them respond to the current health crisis, COVID-19. Olivares attended the U.S.-Caribbean Resilience Partnership on behalf of the Dominican government in October 2019.
Colonel Olivares represented the Dominican Republic in Caribbean Resilience Partnership Working Group hosted by the U.S. Department of State in October 2019.
How long have you worked for COE?
19 years. I’ve been with the organization since its inception.
What are the responsibilities of the COE during this COVID Crisis?
COE is responsible for all coordination efforts with the Ministry of Public Health. We currently deal with everything related to the transportation of individuals who may have contracted COVID. We are also in charge of the platforms used to inform the public about COVID-19, including a call center. We also assist the Ministry of Public Health with the management of hospital beds currently available.
What assistance have you received from the U.S. government to combat COVID-19?
We have initiated talks to garner support from the American government and receive assistance in acquiring supplies. We also maintain constant communication with Embassy personnel for technical assistance.
Colonel Olivares with Ambassador Bernstein and the DR Minister of Defense, along with other Dominican Representatives during the FA-HUM disaster preparedness training in May 2019.
Training exercises for disaster preparedness have been conducted by the U.S. and the Dominican Republic in the past years. How have these training efforts prepared the Dominican Republic for this current situation?
Before I answer the question, it is very important to understand the history of the COE. The COE was initiated as part of assistance efforts on behalf of the United States through the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM); this is how the COE was born and it now acts as the main platform for cooperation as signed into law. All of our training and capacity-building activities are closely linked to those of USAID, SOUTHCOM, the Coast Guard, and others.
A few years ago, we created a training program with U.S. agencies focusing on the proper handling of hazardous materials. Last year, we hosted the “Fuerzas Alidas Humanitarias,” an event organized by SOUTHCOM, and trained on proper handling of hazardous materials. Training and technical assistance, along with equipment provided by the United States, have been crucial to our ability to respond to this crisis. We are currently using all of the equipment that was donated to us and I cannot imagine a day in this current situation without this assistance.
All of the equipment that was previously donated is currently being used. Equipment, which we did not previously have. I can tell you the following, there are developed countries whose emergency response personnel have been infected by COVID, but this has not been the case so for our personnel who transport individuals infected with COVID or under suspicion of infection. This has been in part thanks to the equipment and training provided by the U.S. government.
What recommendations do you have for citizens in the Dominican Republic and foreign residents?
Stay at home! Don’t go out. Follow the guidance of the Ministry of Public Health and other organizations like the World Health of Organization. Again, the most important thing is to stay at home. By doing this, you are making your contribution to the efforts to combat this pandemic which we are still learning about. The dynamics of COVID are constantly changing and the best way for people to protect themselves is to stay at home.
If you need additional assistance or information related to COVID-19, you can reach our national call center by dialing *462.