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


Education and new tchnology for earthquake prevention

The city of San Juan, Argentina, is located in the area of highest seismic risk in the country. This region experiences a strong earthquake approximately every fifty years. Today, as a result of the reconstruction process following the 1944 earthquake, which left the city in ruins, a high percentage of the city’s buildings meet safety regulations that ensure they are earthquake resistant.

The physical reconstruction of buildings, however, was not accompanied by the development of new behaviors to prevent earthquakes. Consequently, the population has no emergency plans and continues to act intuitively when it comes to the destructive events. Such inadequate behavior contributes to increased vulnerability.

To address this problem, a research team from the School of Architecture, Urbanism and Design (FAUD by its Spanish acronym), of the National University of San Juan, led by architects Maria Balmaceda and Alicia Malmod, set out to develop a series of strategies to bridge the gap between the population at risk and the body of knowledge on earthquake prevention that has been developed over years of research. To accomplish this, the team’s efforts called for the efficient use of new information and communication technologies.

¡Alerta SISMO! [Earthquake ALERT!]: A Series on Earthquake Prevention

Unlike other natural events, an early warning system does not make sense for earthquakes. Because earthquakes are impossible to predict, prevention strategies are the only tool available to keep hazards from becoming catastrophes.

In this context, the series titled ¡Alerta SISMO! was created and proposed the gradual development of educational tools in digital, multimedia format to facilitate and promote the teaching of earthquake disaster prevention, keeping in mind the different contexts and social groups involved.

This series addresses a complex problem: education for earthquake disaster prevention, with different approaches depending on the target audience, while making use of the latest information and communication technologies.

Thus far, the following components of the series have been developed:

  • ¡Alerta SISMO! – Earthquake Disaster Prevention in Schools: This is a multimedia software intended for students between 7 – 12 years of age. It promotes both the adaptation of school spaces and the development of behaviors for earthquake disaster prevention at the school level. It serves as a tool for teachers of General Basic Education levels 1 and 2, and it facilitates the implementation of earthquake disaster prevention as part of the compulsory curriculum. It also focuses on developing school emergency and/or contingency plans. In this way, it recognizes the potential the UN/ISDR Article N° 10, 2005). Because of the outreach activities developed for the use of this software, the program was awarded the Third “Arquisur” Outreach Prize.
  • ¡Alerta SISMO II! – Family Emergency Plan: The second component of the series complements and reinforces the efforts made by teachers at school through a clear message developed at home. This is a multimedia software intended especially for adults concerned for the safety of their family members. It promotes the adaptation of spaces within and around the house, as well as the development of behaviors for earthquake prevention. It also offers a guide for developing family emergency plans.
  • ¡Alerta SISMO III! – Earthquake Disaster Prevention in General Basic Education Level 3 and Polimodal1 (under development): This multimedia software complements the other two components and is intended for adolescents within a school environment. This component applies a constructivist approach, and gives young people the opportunity to analyze their surroundings, be critical, and reflect on the importance of events and the effects that can result from them in emergency situations.

Description: ¡Alerta SISMO II! – Family Emergency Plan

Recognizing that every communication endeavor must be oriented towards specific sectors of the population, within this component the family is recognized as a subgroup that merits a particular communication effort, as it constitutes a sector that is both reachable, through children, and responsive, since the lives of its members are at stake. In other words, the family is a group whose behavior is susceptible to modification if adequate media and efficient communication are used.

For this reason, this component was proposed as a new stage in addressing earthquake prevention through an appropriate, educational approach, adding one more link to the chain of initiatives developed thus far, in order to guarantee the effectiveness of the proposed actions.

¡Alerta SISMO II! - Family Emergency Plan is a multimedia software that includes a number of expressive elements from different resources: videos, animations, texts, hypertexts, images, sounds, and music. It is a new and interactive product that promotes coordination of actions, distribution of roles and decision-making.

Unlike the software intended for children, this component uses a more multifaceted communication strategy intended for adults concerned about the safety of their family members. The software includes recommendations that facilitate the development of family emergency plans, adjusted to particular contexts and family groups. It avoids the use of stereotypes because it promotes a process for critical observation and reflection on the particular circumstances of each home and its environment. The product focuses on the development of three main elements: the adaptation of spaces within and around the house, the development of behaviors for earthquake disaster prevention and the creation of family emergency plans as a result of previous arrangements.

The software is an effective and user-friendly tool that explores the communication potential of new technologies. It represents an ideal resource to be used, for instance, by community centers and neighborhood associations, as well as by families in their own homes.


In regions threatened by earthquakes disaster, prevention is a responsibility for all the members of communities at risk. Thus, it is necessary to devote all efforts required to create a change of attitude among the population, in order to establish sustained and sustainable prevention strategies. In this way, the negative effects of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, will be significantly reduced.

In those regions vulnerable to earthquakes, education for prevention is not the sole responsibility of educational institutions because it is intended for society as a whole. The promotion of education for prevention is everyone’s task, but the State is responsible for creating favorable conditions so that the population is able to manage prevention in a collective way, and under a realistic vision that is not controlled by prejudice or fear. In order to achieve this, it is essential to reflect on the effects that a destructive earthquake could have on an “anthropized” environment (that is, an area that has been modified by human action). This is the first step to promoting participation, autonomy and creativity, so that all individuals feel both responsible for their actions as well an empowered to act.

For further information, please contact:
Alicia V. Malmod and Maria Balmaceda
Regional Planning and Habitat Institute
School of Architecture, Urbanism and Design
National University of San Juan, Argentina