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



Andean disaster information units

Information management, a key tool for disaster prevention and mitigation

Information management professionals working in the emergency prevention field collect, process, and disseminate information so that it can reach disaster management professionals, as well as those affected by adverse natural or man-made phenomena, promptly and equitably. Such specialized work calls for very specific training, since it requires common methodologies, elaborate technical skills, and the ability to keep local information centers up to date with the latest advances in both information management and disaster reduction.

Given this critical need, international and regional agencies have been organizing training activities for professionals working for institutional, academic and government disaster information centers, so that they can respond effectively to the growing demand for information on disaster prevention and response.

A workshop on The Management of Disaster Information Units was held on 20-24 May at the PAHO/WHO offices in La Paz, Bolivia, and reflected this year’s Annual Disaster Reduction Campaign theme: disaster prevention in mountain regions.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the Regional Disaster Information Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean (CRID), and PAHO/WHO’s Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief Program (PED) office in Ecuador held the workshop, which brought together 30 disaster information management professionals and technicians from the Andean region.

The Andean countries—Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela—are frequently hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides, hurricanes, drought and forest fires, not to mention the technological hazards common to industrializing nations. Extensive poverty aggravates the vulnerability of their inhabitants.

A flood in La Paz on 14 February that killed 68 people, the eruption of Pichincha and Tugurahua volcanoes in Ecuador, and the 6.9-degree earthquake of June 2001 that affected 213,000 people in Peru—these are just a few of the region’s most recent disasters, but they underscore the urgent need to inform officials and the population of the measures needed before, during, and after a disaster strikes.

The contents of the workshop

The workshop focused on five issues:

• The establishment and management of disaster information units.
• The use of information description and analysis methodologies.
• The use of the Microisis information processing program.
• The controlled vocabulary on disasters.
• The use of the Internet in disaster information management.

The objective of covering such issues was not merely to provide stand-alone training to disaster information management professionals and workers, but above all to ensure that they can exchange information throughout the region by employing the same processing and analysis methodologies as well as the same terminology for information indexing. The ultimate goal is to contribute to the establishment of a regional network of disaster information units that can better meet the needs of the many decision-makers and ordinary citizens who must have reliable and timely access to information on disaster prevention and mitigation.

Emphasis was also placed on the need to provide prompt and equitable services, and on the best possible use of both traditional and high-tech resources to exchange and disseminate disaster reduction information. Needless to say, the Internet featured prominently as a key tool to facilitate access to key information when planning prevention and preparedness measures or responding to an emergency.