ISDR Informs The Americas

The Quest for a Culture of Seismic Prevention Based on Building Life Skills

This article, which is intended as a contribution to a culture of seismic preparedness, is based on the research I conducted for my Master’s degree. It is consistent with the priority established by the Hyogo Framework for Action to “use knowledge, innovation, and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels and to strengthen disaster preparedness for an effective response at all levels.”

When I began to define the ideas that should guide my thesis research, it became clear to me that it should be linked to my work in the area of disaster risk management and to the expertise acquired during the course of my master’s studies, so as to create value added for my own work and for the recipients of the final product: the greater San Juan community (San Juan Province, Republic of Argentina).

Although I only had a basic understanding of seismic risk, I understood that my contribution should preserve the traditional focus of mitigating physical hazards and vulnerability, while incorporating the social variable into the equation. This would be a step towards the goal of “seismic prevention,” a quest dating back to that painful day, January 15, 1944, when an earthquake in San Juan damaged, in just 60 seconds, over 50% of the urban infrastructure which, at the time, covered a surface area of approximately 16 km2.

While compiling information relevant to this issue, I came across Law Nº 25.817, approved by the National Congress and enacted by the National Executive Branch on December 9, 2003. Through this law, the “National Program for Education on Seismic Prevention” was launched. After consulting a number of key references, I learned that the law had not been implemented at the national or provincial levels, beyond the formalities of adherence to national law.

One of the difficulties hampering the implementation of this law was related to the need to enter into “agreements to coordinate actions” between the National Institute for Seismic Prevention (INPRES) and the Ministries of Education of the 16 provinces comprising the Argentine seismic region. The goal of these agreements is to standardize seismic prevention policies. Nonetheless, and even when I determined that the Federal Council of Education and Culture of the Nation was the ideal forum to carry out this objective, I understood that it would only be possible through the political decision of the provincial authorities, taking into account that the body is headed by the Minister of Education of the Nation and made up of the education ministers of all the 23 provinces of Argentina and the autonomous city of Buenos Aires.

Regardless of the political factors, I understood that my contribution should focus on designing a draft that, once the “agreement” was signed, would serve as an alternative solution for the implementation of this law (the National Program for Education on Seismic Prevention).

As I assessed different possible solutions, I learned that the following considerations were important to take into account:

? A clear educational focus
? A defined target population
? A methodology based on “skills” building rather than simply transmitting theoretical knowledge.

In keeping with these parameters, alternative solutions should “produce a culture of prevention focusing on building life skills.” Such skills can be identified as “self-protection” from the standpoint of disaster risk management. This entails an attitude instilled in the individual on how to act during and even after an adverse event (an earthquake in this case), despite the paralysis that such an event tends to produce in people.

Bearing in mind that this cultural change will take place over the years, I understood that the target population should comprise the first level (preschool) and levels 1 and 2 of the basic public education of the San Juan province (ages 5-12). I also decided to exclude from the sample the 3rd cycle of the EGB in order to adapt the proposal to the educational structure of the San Juan Province.

The selection of these educational levels is based on the children’s ability to assimilate information, their willingness to incorporate knowledge, and the possibility of transferring it to their families, given the level of involvement of their parents at those educational levels.

The best proposal I was able to identify was one I called UNICAS (Unidad Itinerante de Capacitación en Sismos/ Mobile Seismic Training Unit). UNICAS represents the outcome of the efforts made by a team of INPRES and the Ministry of Education staff in the San Juan province. The draft included a seminar-based training format which would be carried out during the school year and would include theoretical knowledge as well as appropriate tools for its transfer at the various educational levels of the target population.

Although instructional materials, brochures and other training tools (including multimedia programs) are available in our country, they have not been developed based on the educational system and have not been effective in achieving the goal of prevention as defined in this study.

The thesis leaves it up to the work team to determine whether or not it would be useful to begin only with a teachers training or if it would be more appropriate to do it parallel to the transfer of knowledge to students as a time-saving measure. It is very important to bear in mind, however, that there are 6,928 teachers in the province at those levels, working in 720 schools. This means that it would take three years to train the teachers alone, according to the proposed schedule.

The opportunity to implement the “reference” program is established in Article 7 of the law, which empowers the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers (2003) to “proceed with the relevant restructuring and budgetary modifications in order to comply with the provisions of this law”, an aspect that is made possible today by the recent approval of the law of extraordinary powers granted to the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers, and because, essentially, it will not entail any expenditures on the part of the provinces located in the Argentine seismic region.

After presenting the thesis, the Catholic University (where I studied), agreed to forward my study to the government. At that time, the second half of 2006, then-Provincial Deputy Miguel Martín Martín pledged to introduce a bill amending the “traditional” law of provincial adhesion to national law. I was consulted by the deputy, along with architect Hemilce Benavidez (the thesis director) in order to contribute supporting elements. On November 23, 2006, Provincial Law Nº 7761 was passed and included the following provisions:

  1. Establishes the Provincial Ministry of Education as the law’s implementing authority empowered to enter into agreements to coordinate actions with the National Institute for Seismic Prevention;
  2. Establishes a 90-day period to carry out the aforementioned action; and
  3. Authorizes the Executive to carry out the necessary regulation, reorganization and budgetary allocations to enforce this law.

On May 8, 2007, the date on which INPRES was founded and is therefore commemorated as the “National Seismic Prevention Day,” a reference “agreement” was signed between that national agency and the Ministry of Education of the San Juan Province, which included, among other provisions, the establishment of an “Interdisciplinary Committee” authorized to work on the identification of concrete actions to be carried out in the future.

I believe that the San Juan province, which has the highest seismic risk level in Argentina, has pledged that “disaster mitigation begins at school.”

For further information, please contact:
Sergio Fernando Sánchez
(Please note that the email address includes an underscore (_) between “sergiosan” and 61


imagen 1