Mexico is located along a hot spot of seismic activity known as “the Ring of Fire,” which makes the country uniquely prone to certain natural disasters, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The last major earthquake in Mexico was documented near Mexico City in September 2017. Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention is in Mexico City and is always on alert and prepared to respond to the next disaster. To continue evolving their disaster response program, the Mexican government has partnered with the U.S. government to build Mexico’s new National School for Civil Protection.
“This is a project between U.S. Northern Command, and CENAPRED, as part of their longstanding partnership on disaster preparedness,” said Christine Myers, USNORTHCOM Humanitarian Assistance program manager. “USNORTHCOM supports the building’s construction, which is being executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”
The facility will serve as the main schoolhouse for ENAPROC, where students will be trained on disaster response and civil protection through CENAPRED.
USACE is building a three-story training facility on land owned by the National Autonomous University of Mexico in support of USNORTHCOM’s humanitarian assistance partnership with Mexico. The facility will house different classrooms and training rooms, offering both in person and virtual opportunities. Right now, ENAPROC is offering mostly online trainings in coordination with U.S. emergency management assistance due to lack of in-person training areas.
“Before this project came across our desk, we were working with ENAPROC to provide training, coursework and equipment to different civil protection or emergency management personnel across the country. Through this partnership, we discovered the need for a schoolhouse to provide better opportunities to the school and educate first responders in Mexico,” said Isac Olivas, Humanitarian Assistance program advisor of the Office of Defense Coordination, U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
The Embassy and USNORTHCOM worked together alongside the Mexican government and their different agencies to bring this project to life through Overseas, Humanitarian Disaster and Civic Aid funds. When project planning started, USNORTHCOM had to choose an organization to assist with the design and construction of the facility, and they chose USACE.
“USACE would be able to make it happen and get the work done at the highest quality possible because the schoolhouse is something we want to make sure is going to last a long time,” said Maj. Michael Hill, Humanitarian Assistance program chief of the Office of Defense Coordination, U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
This project is the first time USACE has partnered with the Mexican government to build a facility in their region. When the task was given to USACE Headquarters the project was assigned to the Kansas City District, a district known for their commitment to quality and technical expertise.
“USACE is proud to be building this unique addition to the Mexican government’s disaster response capabilities,” said Col. Travis Rayfield, Kansas City District commander and district engineer. “Our team has worked hard alongside our U.S. and Mexican partners from the start to create a plan that will provide a state-of-the-art facility to all students who attend ENAPROC.”
This project is a design, bid, build contract, which means USACE designed the building and wrote the construction contract to be bid on by industry partners. The industry partner who was awarded the contract would eventually carry out the construction of the project with oversight from Kansas City District quality assurance representatives.
“USACE is here to provide technical expertise … Our job is to make sure what is being built in Mexico City is built per our design. It’s a U.S. designed building that we are constructing in Mexico City, which makes it a little unique,” said Shyanne Dean, Kansas City District project engineer and contracting officer representative for the project.
Building a facility in Mexico is not the same as building a facility in the U.S. One unique difference is that the facility must comply with both U.S. and local regulations. To ensure all regulations are met, the team worked hard to create an onsite team of local and USACE personnel dedicated to meeting all the contract specifications. USACE contracted a local QA from a company called Soy Socio to work alongside the USACE QA.
“Having a local QA company is new and USACE is gaining invaluable insight on how they do things in Mexico,” said Dean.
Local stakeholders, known as the DRO, are also directly involved in the success of the project. They serve as the local official and professional engineer responsible for the project.
The partnerships and impact
This project has many partners, and every single partner has a seat at the table. USACE helps lead partnering sessions once every three months to discuss successes and work through issues that arise.
“USACE is bridging the gap between all our different partners and helping to manage the amount of people involved. We are learning a lot from one another and are finding where the differences can merge, or where we can determine what is the best outcome for the project,” said Dean.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to partnership, according to Dean.
“This project requires close partnership on all levels. Whether it is the customer, user or contractor, USACE sees collaboration and coordination as an essential part to the project’s success,” said Rayfield.
This project will not just affect Mexico, it will affect other Latin American countries, as well. ENAPROC has teamed up with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to translate disaster response trainings into Spanish and change the scenarios to be more specific to the Mexican region. These translated trainings are being shared with many other Latin American countries in an effort to standardize and improve disaster response training across the region.
ENAPROC has also opened their online enrollment world-wide so any first responder can attend and learn about their disaster response practices.
This project is not the first of its kind, but it is another step toward the U.S. and Mexican governments continuing to build stronger relationships.
“ENAPROC’s construction highlights the U.S.-Mexico partnership on disaster preparedness, which increases resilience in both countries, as well as regionally. This is the largest USNORTHCOM disaster preparedness project with Mexico’s civilian sector in over a decade of partnering,” said Myers.
With the magnitude of this project, the team always keeps the goal of the project at the forefront of their minds as they continue construction.
“These disasters are always going to happen and there is no way to prevent them from happening, but we can prevent the overly negative effects of these disasters by providing the resources they need at the federal, state and community level to prepare their communities for natural disasters,” said Hill.
Embassy officials consider this project a huge success in continued diplomatic relationships between Mexico and the U.S. that have been present for the past 200 years.
USACE awarded the prime contract to Cobeal in September 2021 and construction began at the end of June 2022. Construction is scheduled to be complete in 2024 and classes will start shortly after.