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




Training for EOCs through a multimedia software that simulates volcanic eruptions

In recent months the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), in collaboration with a large number of organizations and experts from Colombia and Ecuador, has been developing activities related to health preparedness for volcanic emergencies. These activities have been carried out in the context of a DIPECHO project funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office. As part of this process, new training simulation material was developed, including multimedia software with training and assessment exercises intended for the representatives of the Emergency Operation Centers (COE) within the health sector.

A simulation exercise will never be successful if it does not have a good script. This is the conceptual basis and underlying idea that will “guide” the development of multimedia's future role in the field. The script also provides the realistic scenario and the key elements needed to “dramatize” and put into context the game for all participants.

The first step of this work involved a thorough process carried out by experts in volcanoes and health to develop the script. Subsequently, the script was reviewed and validated in a number of technical meetings held in both countries. Finally, the software was designed and produced by a team of programmers, graphic designers and experts in the field of communications.

Simulations have always been powerful learning tools because they allow 'students' to cope with situations in which they have to solve problems and get involved in a practical way. In comparison with traditional simulation models, this software presents some advantages that enhance its possibilities as training material. The computers, interface and multimedia elements used (such as video images and files with radio spots, photographs, written reports and background documents) lead users to be immersed in a close-to-reality situation, and foster the player's motivation through its participatory and interactive features.

Without having to expose themselves to the risks implied in a real-life situation, the players must manage and interpret a large volume of information, assess the consequences of their own decisions, and negotiate and discuss them. Participants must face the uncertainty that arises from only partially understanding the situation and the actions of colleagues and other bodies participating in this exercise. During this process, players test their technical knowledge, and their communication and negotiation skills. It is worth mentioning that one of the requirements is that the software must be connected to a local area network with nine individual computers in order to run the software properly.

During the six or seven hours that this exercise lasts, participants are overwhelmed by a large volume of information, sometimes confusing and conflicting, with which they most make decisions to alleviate the consequences of the emergency caused by the Altamira Volcano in the towns of San Pablo, Samana and Santa Cruz, located in the province of Villaluz. From a disaster preparedness viewpoint, the work done within this scenario enables users to:

  • Learn about the behavior of volcanoes, including the characteristics of the threats that these represent (lahars, pyroclastic flows, ash, gases, etc.), and their effects on health at large; and,
  • Understand the complexity of the decisions that a health EOC must make, and the importance of coordination and prior communication within and between sectors involved.

The exercise promotes health EOCs as key means for disaster preparedness and management coordination. Likewise, players “live” the importance of creating and maintaining an updated situation room that provides informative and analytical support for EOC members to make appropriate decisions. The script and activities carried out allow users to address priority issues for adequate responses: health services, sanitation and environmental health, care of victims, logistical aspects in terms of foreign aid, communication, mental health, and shelter management, among others.

The exercise ends with a joint evaluation done by all participants, which include evaluators, observers and players. Most of the 50 people that participated in two workshops held in Colombia and Ecuador mentioned that this was a valuable experience that involved useful and intensive learning. They also said that this simulation helped them evaluate their own technical knowledge and skills to make decisions, as well as establish the teamwork needed to address stressful and uncertain situations. In addition, they evaluated the script, the software and the methodology used. All these components are currently being reviewed to make any necessary adjustments, with changes to be incorporated in a later version of the software. This new version will be used in Central America during the fourth quarter of this year.

To date, the feedback received has been positive and we expect to improve the software in the following months.

For additional information, please contact:
Ricardo Pérez, rperez@ecu.ops-oms.org
Area of Disaster Preparedness, PAHO/WHO