Chile is home to 18.3 million people. It is a society built on a market economy and participatory republican government structure, and it is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of the world’s 38 wealthiest nations. However, it confronts several social and economic challenges that have led to massive protests and an initiative to rewrite the constitution to address inequality. Society is aging, but, in recent years, Chile has attracted immigrants, and it has a majority (87%) urban population that takes advantage of economies of scale that have made Chile a center for industries and services in the region.
The country is vulnerable to extreme natural events: volcanic eruptions, violent earthquakes, and tsunamis. Moreover, it is exposed to multiple hazards including those associated with climate change such as wildfires, floods and landslides, and droughts. Flooding and fires are high frequency events in Chile while earthquakes, the third most frequent disaster, represent a significant percentage of mortality and economic damages caused by natural disasters. During a three-decade span (1980-2010), the country experienced average annual economic losses from natural disasters of 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP). Between 2010 and 2020, Chile experienced 30 natural disasters that reached the threshold of 10 deaths, 100 persons affected, or a national/local declaration of emergency or calamity. During this period, 855 Chileans were recorded as having been killed, and 4.2 million were affected. Moreover, the total cost of damages was US$40.8 billion. Climate change is expected to change the frequency, intensity, exposure, and magnitude of multiple hazards for which the government is elaborating plans and participating in global climate change initiatives.
Chile’s lead state agency for disaster management is the National Emergency Office of the Ministry of the Interior and Public Security (ONEMI). ONEMI is charged with planning and coordinating public and private resources for disaster prevention and response, inclusive of disasters caused by both natural hazards and human actions. ONEMI also oversees the National Civil Protection System (SNPC), which uses international alert conventions, associated with the traffic signal colors (green, yellow, and red). ONEMI and the country’s civil society organizations are complemented by police and the armed forces. The role of the armed forces in disaster response increased following the 2010 earthquake response, which strained civil defense and police resources. Following a disaster, a declaration of a state of emergency paves the way for the armed forces to manage law and order by patrolling the streets and assisting with law enforcement.
Two major documents underlying ONEMI’s work and overall disaster risk reduction and emergency response are the National Civil Protection Plan and the National Emergency Plan. The National Civil Protection Plan of 2002 disseminates the concept of the comprehensive risk management cycle. The National Emergency Plan of 2017 approved the National Emergency Plan of ONEMI. The National Emergency Plan and the Strategic Plan for National Disaster Risk Management (PENGRD) comprises part of the National Disaster Risk Management Plan, and it formulates national emergency plans specific to risk variables (e.g., forest fires, volcanic activity, tsunami, etc.). This National Emergency Plan establishes the general coordination of the National Civil Protection System (SNPC) against disasters and other emergencies occurring in Chile’s national territory, establishing and guiding response actions throughout warning, response, and recovery. Beyond its own domestic capacity, Chile participates in preparedness exercises and conferences within the Americas and with Pacific regional partners. The Chilean Armed Forces regularly exercise with partners in events focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR).