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Part I: Overview

Vulnerable components

The threat of disasters is well know, especially since Hurricane Mitch ravaged Central America. However, additional research is needed to more clearly identify specific vulnerabilities and also to reveal new means of mitigating these threats. In addition to the natural threats, this report includes the threat from secondary technological events (spills and accidents) that could result in a loss of critical transportation infrastructure.

Secondary threats were mentioned by the specialists because they can be caused by a natural event, resulting in fires, oil and chemical spills, and airplane crashes, to name a few such threats. In addition, loss of electrical power caused by any type of event was identified as a major potential vulnerability of ports and airports. Fortunately, good planning for any event could generally strengthen the resilience of infrastructure and might prevent or mitigate damage from any source.

Threats to each mode

Responses to detailed questionnaires for each of the modes (air, maritime and land transport) provided a detailed analysis of critical elements by sector specialists and their estimate of what assistance would be required from outside the country. For example, air transportation could be seriously disrupted by loss of the following: the airport control tower; the regional radar system and air navigation system; communication between the tower and aircraft; or the runway, severely damaged due to an earthquake or flood. (See Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2.)

Ports and maritime infrastructure could become inoperative due to the silting of the shipping channel; upheaval of the ship channel; physical damage to wharf or port facilities (port rail systems, cranes); disruption of the channel markers (buoys); loss of electrical power; and a major pollution event (oil spill, ship accident, etc.) (See Figure 2.1 and Figure 2.2.)

Roads, bridges and tunnels are more likely to be repaired, at least temporarily, by national resources or regional sharing of expertise, supplies and equipment. Regional cooperation is more rapid since some roads are critical for the export of goods from neighboring countries. If available regionally, prefabricated bridge spans for temporary repairs could reduce the need for international assistance. (See Figure 3.1 and Figure 3.2.)

Railroad systems were not included in this report because they are not a critical transportation resource at this time.


Mechanisms for regional cooperation and assistance

Regional specialists and organizations were asked to identify what goods and services would be needed from outside the country. It was noted that regional technical expertise is available for immediate damage assessment, but the process for requesting, managing and paying for this expertise and equipment is ad hoc. There are few agreements that formalize the use of personnel from countries in the region although this is a traditional form of assistance during times of serious need and disasters. The need to formalize these ad hoc arrangements (see Figure 4) and the use of the network of friends has been expressed by several technical specialists. (See Figures 1.3, 1.4, 2.3, 2.4, 3.3 and 3.4.) Figure 5 presents a proposal to a general program follow-up, which complement the recommendations contained in this document.

Regional Organizations have proposed expanding their services to their members to include disaster-related technical assistance and loss reduction measures. Their disaster-related proposals are included in some of the organization’s strategic plans or have been discussed in informal meetings with their leaders. For example, COCESNA has recently expanded their role from air traffic control over 19,000 feet to managing the air traffic for all Honduran airports. In addition a new safety project, to be financed by the Inter-American Development Bank will support COCESNA’s effort to strengthen compliance with ICAO Air Safety standards in six Central American member countries. An expansion into airport safety and disaster loss reduction seems to be a logical step for COCESNA, but it will take time to develop the proposals, seek approval of their members and secure financing for that effort.

Regional technical organizations in each sector could use the conclusions and recommendations of this document to further identify regional needs and formalize these informal arrangements through a mutual assistance agreement. The legal foundation for negotiating and signing mutual assistance agreements are already established in the legal framework of each country. Although the authority exists, there are financial and bureaucratic constraints that slow or impede governments and technical agencies from entering into agreements.

Regional specialists suggest that a first step in implementing a regional approach for immediate response would be to conduct a country level inventory of the goods and services available to repair or restore the critical components identified for each mode, should assistance be needed from another country. This regional inventory should include technical specialists, equipment and spare parts, as well as a description of how the goods or services could be obtained, including any financial terms.

A comprehensive regional mutual assistance agreement

One alternative to increase mutual assistance would be to have a widely focused regional disaster umbrella mutual assistance agreement under which sector agreements could be developed. A regional agreement has been discussed by CEPREDENAC, as described in their Regional Coordination Manual for Disasters. Major provisions and conditions would be adapted from elements of the Inter-American Convention to Facilitate Disaster Assistance. This general framework would enable sector and mode specific mutual assistance agreements to be developed and negotiated within a larger framework that includes legal authority, financial mechanisms, settlement of disputes, etc. Regardless of the type of agreements negotiated, some common elements should be considered. Enhanced agreements among members of an organization will still require ratification by "higher level" governmental authorities for some provisions, e.g. cross border movement of personnel, goods and equipment, waiver of customs, licensing, etc. (See Appendix C for elements of a comprehensive agreement.)

Several sample agreements are available that could be adapted to meet Central American transportation sector needs. More than 30 state governors in the United States have adopted one comprehensive agreement, an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC). The original EMAC can be viewed at

Contracts and Concessional Arrangements or some type of privatization are becoming increasingly popular in the air transport industry. Since several of these agreements are currently under negotiation, details remain very sketchy. However, responsibility for airport terminal and runway maintenance and repairs may be included in some airport concessionary agreements. Provisions for emergency repairs, including timing, standards and financing should be clearly identified in any concession arrangement.

An analysis of the critical components in each Mode identified that, even if agreements existed, some additional constraints must be overcome. For example, in the current economic situation, particularly in the air navigation mode, spare parts for immediate repairs and replacement components for immediate installation are not available "off the shelf", but must be manufactured. Stockpiling of certain critical components is an option, but there are few organizations that have stockpiled critical items. One major constraint is how to finance the stockpile.

Reducing losses and vulnerability

Regional organizations have begun to recognize their potential role to support their members’ loss reduction actions. The Center for Natural Disaster Prevention in Central America (CEPREDENAC) has developed disaster policies and guidance in close collaboration with their member states and with international technical organizations. CEPREDENAC has recently developed a strategy, under review by their members, to identify loss reduction actions with the private sector. Elements of this document will be considered in future CEPREDENAC recommendations and disaster activities with the transportation sector.

One factor that might stimulate pre disaster action to reduce vulnerability and losses is information about disaster-related losses of government revenue and taxes and lost private sector earnings. Direct losses from airport landing fees, port charges, reduced tax revenue, business earnings, when combined with secondary losses and the multiplier, if well documented, could become a stronger motivation for pre event prevention and mitigation actions. Country level and regional understanding of the need to reduce losses is increasing as the hardship caused by disasters is experienced and as documentation of effective loss reduction measures in other parts of the world improves.

Direct losses from oil and chemical spills and the potential impact of these events on the corporate profits, the environment and the tourist industry have motivated that sector to take loss reduction measures. These prevention and preparedness measures and the agreements that document and enforce them are examples of how events can be mitigated or contained and hopefully prevented from becoming disasters.

Why mutual assistance agreements are useful

It is generally assumed that agreements are valuable, but in the case of natural disasters agreements can save lives and reduce losses. The benefits of a formal agreement include:

A rapid response tailored to a specific need(s) identified in advance;

The cost of goods and services negotiated methodically rather than during an urgent situation that always demands a higher price;

Recognized international standards could be included to reduce future vulnerability and losses;

The agreement negotiation process brings additional benefits, (identifying weaknesses in both the facility as well as the organizational structure); and

International agreements often include technical assistance, technology exchanges and specialized professional networking opportunities.


Mechanisms for International Cooperation and Assistance

The role of international donors and organizations

Recent experience with critical infrastructure restoration following Hurricanes Mitch and Georges again revealed the strengths and weaknesses of external technical organizations, donor countries and regional and international financial institutions. Although detailed damage assessments were conducted quickly and donor pledges stimulated, the actual restoration of infrastructure critical to stem the loss of business and tax revenues was slow.

Specific evidence of why the response was slow is found upon examination of the bureaucratic complexity of the assistance request – donor response process. For example, very general or incomplete requests from a disaster stricken Government to several donors and financial institutions often slow the donor decisions and response.

One national level issue that must be resolved is the current situation with several country governments. Some governments have signed agreements and treaties but find it difficult to fulfill the responsibilities agreed upon in the documents. Unless some of these concerns, primarily expressed by the private sector, are resolved there will be little real cooperation between governments and companies due to a lack of trust.

Bilateral assistance from an interested donor government to a stricken country to repair, replace or finance a critical transportation component has occurred several times. In the recent past, the Governments of Canada, France, Japan, Taiwan and the United States have offered or provided control towers, rapid runway repair teams, air navigation aids or recalibration, cranes for ports, road and bridge damage assessment teams, engineering teams with heavy equipment for temporary road and bridge repair, etc. Some donors with an existing transportation project in the stricken country can approve restructuring or refocusing the project to address urgent disaster-related needs.

Most donor governments make disaster decisions on a case-to-case basis after assessing the disaster’s damage, even when those governments have provided similar assistance following earlier disasters. Some donor "offers" include a financing package linked to equipment manufactured in the donor country.

In order for donor funds to focus on improved standards and vulnerability reduction in disaster-related activities, agreements should be negotiated before the disaster and a clear understanding of each party’s expectation identified. Disasters are not the time to conduct such negotiations, therefore, financing that could be available for vulnerability and loss reduction is not used for that purpose.

International financial institutions (The World Bank and regional development banks) banks have increased their lending to disaster stricken countries in recent years. Despite expediting the procedures, these loans and other financial mechanisms do not lend themselves to development of pre event mutual assistance type agreements. However, the financial institutions have demonstrated flexibility as borrowers have requested changes to meet immediate disaster needs using existing loan funds.

One creative use of loan funds is the financing of critical components in the transportation sector to be held in reserve until the next disaster. The World Bank is discussing with East Caribbean OECS countries an emergency loan that would be negotiated in advance of a disaster. Another example is in the current World Bank loan to the Government of St. Lucia for disaster mitigation and recovery that includes financing of a small number of temporary bridge components that can be used for future emergencies. A similar proposal was discussed in some Central American relief projects following Hurricane Mitch. However, governments did not accept this aspect of the project. Loan financed country or regional stockpiles remain a viable option for highly disaster prone countries with critical transportation needs. There are many places where a temporary bridge would rapidly restore major commercial activity, thus reducing losses


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