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


School Retrofitting Program
in Central America (PRECA)

The Department of Sustainable Development (DSD), a division of the Organization of American States (OAS), is currently developing the School Retrofitting Program in Central America (PRECA, by its Spanish acronym) with the valuable contribution of the German Cooperation Agency (GTZ) and the Canadian International Cooperation Agency (CIDA). Many schools in Central America are vulnerable to natural hazards and could be so damaged that their normal activities might be interrupted. In this region, there exist different governmental, non-governmental, public, private, national and international organizations working on school planning, design, construction, repair and maintenance, but these bodies do not necessarily deal with issues related to reducing vulnerability to natural hazards.

Communities can play a pivotal role in reducing the existing level of vulnerability of school buildings to natural hazards. Each community can participate in conducting vulnerability assessments in their own schools, and in organizing activities aimed at retrofitting school buildings so that available resources are used to reinforce existing facilities. There is the need, therefore, to promote coordination mechanisms to implement projects for school vulnerability reduction and, at the same time, to ensure community participation in such projects.

  • During the first phase of PRECA, existing information related to vulnerability to natural hazards in preschool, primary and secondary schools, was gathered for each country. This information included all ongoing and planned actions aimed at retrofitting schools so that they are more resistant to potential natural events such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, landslides, and volcanic eruptions. The information gathered included:
  • A list of national institutions responsible for developing educational infrastructure in the country: the Ministry of Education, Social Investment Funds, the Ministry of Public Works, local governments, NGOs, private institutions, etc.
  • A list of regional and international agencies working on educational infrastructure in the country.
  • A list of key personnel from each institution and agency identified, who work on school vulnerability reduction.
  • A list of specific ongoing and planned activities intended for reducing the vulnerability of educational infrastructure.
  • Copies of technical material related to school retrofitting to cope with natural hazards, so that the material is available to the agencies and institutions identified.
  • National plans for vulnerability reduction of the educational sector to natural hazards, which may include, among other aspects, the following:
    - Vulnerability reduction policies of the sector.
    - The planning process of school buildings and the use of information on natural hazards in such process.
    - Mitigation projects, the use of building codes and standards, and maintenance of school buildings.
    - Educational programs for emergency response.

Based on the information gathered, the draft of a technical and institutional guide for carrying out school retrofitting projects to make them more resistant to natural hazards was developed. After identifying the different institutions responsible for school retrofitting in each country of the region, the guide describes the administrative processes needed for implementing retrofitting activities. These institutions include all national and international, public and private, governmental and non-governmental organizations that work on the development of educational infrastructures. A new guide will also include a checklist to be used by the education community, including teachers, administrative staff, parents and students, in order to assess the different components of a school that need to be retrofitted, using community-based vulnerability reduction programs to address the challenges faced by the educational sector. The guide will provide local groups with information on how to access funds donated for materials, tools and specialized labor, once the community has organized work groups and technical support. These guides will support the retrofitting of school facilities and will be aimed at reducing their vulnerability. The guides will be disseminated among staff from the Ministries of Education, Public Works and Social Investment Funds (FIS by its Spanish acronym). It is necessary to point out that some schools represent a challenge that goes beyond community participation, as major structural problems will also require design and building procedures.

In this phase, a critical review of national plans for school vulnerability reduction was also carried out. During the last decade, in some countries of the region vulnerability reduction plans were developed, with the support of the OAS’ Department of Sustainable Development. In some cases, it was found that the plans had not been implemented nor had they received support or recognition on the part of the national, regional and international institutions involved in school design, construction and reconstruction.

Since, apparently, there is no agency responsible for school vulnerability to natural hazards in many countries, there is a lack of concrete ideas on how to reduce the risk of such hazards. In some nations, technical discussions have not yet reached a level by which it is possible to distinguish between life safety standards (i.e. the prevention of a school collapse or other such damage that may result in the loss of human life), and building occupancy standards (which if met would also serve the function of community shelter before, during and immediately after a disaster). In terms of issues related to the vulnerabilities of the design, construction and reconstruction of school buildings, technical discussions at the national level have not managed to separate design-related failures from problems arising at the implementation stage, which may range from poor site location to inadequate construction practices. In some cases, there exist deficiencies in technical areas, such as design, land use planning, or inspection of school construction in multi-hazard areas.


Finally, a draft document was developed, which included training needs for both institutional staff and community members working on issues related to educational infrastructure. One of the primary goals of this training is to promote disaster mitigation policies among managers, ministers of education and heads of organizations responsible for school construction and maintenance. Currently, there are a number of mandates, declarations and action plans related to disaster vulnerability developed at national, regional, hemispheric and global levels, but little support is provided to the follow-up processes of such efforts. There is also a lack of commitment and coordination needed at national and regional levels. There is no continuity in the training needs identified in different institutions involved in school design, construction and reconstruction. Donors (of both financial resources and labor) of school construction and reconstruction, as well as community groups, such as parents associations are sometimes a hindrance for processes related to location, design, construction, reconstruction and relocation of school buildings.

The La Celia School, located in the Atlantic region of Costa Rica, which is prone to floods, is built on stone pillars.



The activities carried out in the context of this program will represent the basis for creating a sustainable process, by which communities may receive assistance in retrofitting primary and secondary schools vulnerable to natural hazards in Central America, with the use of funds donated to match contributions of local support, labor and technical assistance. This first phase will contribute to subsequent actions aimed at working with counterparts in defining priorities and establishing PRECA programs.

For further information on this program, please contact:
Pedro Bastidas