International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
Latin America and the Caribbean   

Newsletter ISDR Inform - Latin America and the Caribbean
Issue: 13/2006- 12/2006 - 11/2005 - 10/2005 - 9/2004 - 8/2003 - 7/2003 - 6/2002 - 5/2002 - 4/2001- 3/2001

Partners in Action-EDUCATION


Prevention and risk awareness

The city of San Juan, Argentina is located within the highest seismic area in this country. Both the San Juan National University and the National Institute for Seismic Prevention have conducted extensive research, which has allowed for the creation of significant theoretical knowledge for seismic prevention. As a result, our city is in a better position to design and build earthquake resistant constructions, if compared to the situation faced by other places with similar hazards. However, in many cases, this positive fact per se has negatively influenced the level of risk awareness among the
population at large.

Risk awareness is understood as “…mental images that a specific person, individually or collectively, develops around existing hazards and applies to his/her own vulnerability situation (vulnerability self-awareness), and the relationships between both
aspects (disaster risk). Risk awareness is not a passive reaction towards risk but its active interpretation. Thus, it constitutes a component of risk itself.”

In addition, as earthquakes are considered phenomena that cause situations of extreme danger, they produce strong emotional and affective reactions. Generally, these events cause negative effects and reactions involving denial and unusual behavior. A distorted perception of reality that influences risk awareness represents a
decisive vulnerability factor. It is not possible to prevent what is unknown to us.

It is not enough to build earthquake resistant constructions and infrastructure to mitigate seismic risk. Both the functioning and use of these infrastructures modify the space in which they are located, transforming and making such space more dynamic. These modifications are introduced by their own users who should be aware of and able to understand the consequences of their actions.

Contributing to solve this problem

As a response to this problem, we are developing a program aimed at establishing a number of linked strategies, in order to strengthen seismic risk management through education.

a) Creation of an educational tool to be used in formal education: A multimedia kit entitled Warning SEISM! Seismic Prevention in Schools, intended for children between the ages of 7 and 12.

b) Dissemination of this tool through a pilot experiment in a school located in the capital city of San Juan Province, Argentina, and the signing of an agreement with the XIV-G Network “Hábitat en Riesgo” [Habitat at risk] of the CYTED program.

c) Creation of a program for teachers on the use of this Multimedia Kit ¡Alerta SISMO! aimed at promoting its use in schools.

d) Creation of educational tools to address seismic related issues at the family level. Another tool entitled “Multimedia ¡Alerta SISMO! II - Plan Familiar de Emergencia Sísmica” [Warning SEISM! Family Plan for Seismic Emergencies] is currently being developed.

Description of the strategies developed

a) Creation of a Multimedia Kit: “Warning SEISM! - Seismic Prevention in Schools”

This is a multimedia software intended for children between the ages of 7 and 12, and focuses on seismic prevention, laying emphasis on space adequacy in schools and the establishment of preventive behavior towards earthquakes.

This kit was developed in response to the need for a tool to be used by teachers to facilitate the implementation of seismic prevention from a constructivist approach. This approach includes the participation of all stakeholders involved in our current education

¡Alerta SISMO! represents a complementary tool to prevention manuals, not only in terms of digital support but also, and mostly, because of its proposed educational plan. In order to create it, an alternative educational approach was developed, which included digital interactive means related to earthquakes. This approach allowed for knowledge structure and organization, so that the initial level of attraction/fascination (usually promoted by commercial multimedia products) could be overcome, stimulating in this manner a means for developing critical thinking.

b) Verification of the main purposes of this tool and its dissemination through the pilot project in a school of San Juan, Argentina and the signing of an agreement with the XIV-G Network “Hábitat en Riesgo” of the CYTED program.

This multimedia tool was tested during a pilot experiment for one semester with sixth graders from a school located in the capital city of San Juan Province, Argentina. This experience helped prove our initial hypothesis, as it was shown that its use brings about a number of advantages, in comparison to more traditional practices, because it
allows to:

• Get students’ attention, based upon their own interests;

• Address the issue of seismic prevention from different approaches; and,

• Encourage students and teachers to build risk hypotheses based upon their own environment, and establish collaborative behavior that may be also transferred to their

In addition, in September 2004, a cooperative and assistance agreement was signed with the XIV-G Network “Hábitat en Riesgo”, of the CYTED program. This network agreed to distribute the multimedia kit ¡Alerta SISMO! in twelve Latin American countries belonging to XIV-G.

c) Creation of a training program for teachers on the use of Multimedia ¡Alerta SISMO! to make more effective its use in schools.

A number of training sessions on seismic prevention have been held throughout 2004. These sessions are intended for teachers and their main goal is to contribute to reducing seismic vulnerability in education communities working on general and basic education. Risk awareness is being promoted through the use of the multimedia kit
¡Alerta SISMO! as a teaching tool. This work has been done in collaboration with the provincial Ministry of Education and the National Institute for Seismic Prevention.

d) Development of educational tools to raise risk awareness at the family level. The multimedia kit “¡Alerta SISMO! II - Plan Familiar de Emergencia Sísmica” is currently being developed.

The pilot project carried out throughout the 2002 school year highlighted the need to complement the work done to address seismic prevention at the family level. Within society at large, the family was identified as a subgroup that substantiates communication efforts because it represents a sector that may be reached through children and, as their lives are at stake, families are usually responsive. In other words, the family constitutes a group whose behavior may be changed if appropriate means are used and if communication is effective. Since 2003, a complementary tool has been developed to address this issue at the family level.


When a change of behavior in society is the ultimate goal, it is even more important to develop ideal tools and verify their use to serve that purpose. Along these lines, it is important to highlight the following achievements by the actions taken thus far:

• The creation of links between populations at risk and the theoretical body of knowledge developed in terms of seismic prevention;

• The effective use of appropriate technologies, as they help achieve the goal of reaching populations at risk; and,

• Contributions to achieving social equity and collective, starting from the establishment of a culture of seismic prevention.

It is considered that these actions should be incorporated into a wider education program that helps coordinate the efforts made by different sectors working on prevention-related issues. Prevention should not only include the enforcement of building standards but also actions that help raise risk awareness of actual threats among the population. This consideration may represent the difference between life and death for a large sector of the population.

Furthermore, it is known and recognized that these preventive actions must be enduring and sustained, in particular in the case of seism, as earthquakes are sporadic phenomena that cause negative effects on the population in general. If this momentum is lost responses will also cease, bringing about immediate regression. In other words, the level of awareness and emergency preparedness among the population will decrease significantly.

By: Ms. Alicia Violeta Malmod and Ms. María Isabel Balmaceda
Regional Institute for Planning and Habitat– Team for Applied
Computer Science
School of Architecture, Urban Development and Design
San Juan National University - ARGENTINA