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



Information center’s user and the new age of knowledge management

Information is essential for good risk reduction management. In 1997, in response to the needs expressed by Latin American and Caribbean governments and civil institutions, six organizations decided to establish the Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID by its Spanish acronym). The goal of the Center is to contribute to the development of a culture of prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean, by providing information on disasters and promoting collaborative efforts to improve risk management in the region.

The use of new technologies has facilitated the information transfer and communication services involved in this work, allowing CRID to diversify its products and services and expand its area of action.

Currently, CRID offers services and products that include the access to more than 16,000 bibliographical records and audiovisual materials related to the topic of disasters; assistance to a wide range of users as they search for and locate information on disasters in both physical and electronic media; the publication and distribution of specialized bibliographies; technical assistance and training on information management for different information centers; and electronic access to a collection of more than 10,000 full-text documents and photo-graphic materials.

Digitizing Documents

Early history
In early 2002, with the financial support of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) and the UN/ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), CRID launched a project aimed at improving access to information on health and disasters in Central America. As a result of this initiative, a process of digitizing full-text documents was implemented, and the Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information (CANDHI) was created.

Project consolidation
In 2005, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) decided to support this project financially so that the CANDHI network could be used to improve the existing information management capacity related to disasters in Central America.

The strategy consisted mainly of giving these centers the knowledge, training and technological resources needed to carry out activities that would facilitate the distribution and exchange of technical information in the Central American region. This included converting paper documents into electronic form, or “digitizing” them.

Digitizing process
The process begins by selecting materials to be digitized and preparing them to be scanned (material is selected according to criteria established by information management specialists). The physical characteristics of the documents are evaluated, respecting their defined structure (chapter, sections and parts). In some cases where the binding makes scanning difficult, the documents are photocopied before being scanned.

Subsequently, the actual scanning occurs and the electronic image is captured in two different formats: TIF (Tagged Image File Format), which allows the information to be saved in a standard high-quality format that can be converted easily into other formats commonly used in electronic information exchange; and PDF (Portable Document Format), which can be used in electronic media, such as the Internet.

Each page of the document is edited using various techniques that improve the image and eliminate anything that is extraneous to the content or that reduces the quality of the document, like shadows, dots, stains, dark borders etc.

In order to facilitate access to the electronic document, an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) page is created in which the user can click on links to access content-specific material. Finally, the document is given an overall inspection to make sure it conforms to specific quality control standards for accessibility, appearance, and faithfulness to the original document. The digitized documents are published on the CRID website ( and are ready for our users to access them.

More than 10,000 documents (a little more than half a million pages) have passed through this simple and practical process, which has yielded excellent results. Approximately 200 new full-text documents are published each month on our website.

Achievements and benefits obtained

  • Distribute information to more users in an orderly way.
  • Offer a decentralized service; information gets to the user quickly and easily through the Internet and other electronic media.
  • Reduce response time and mailing costs considerably, since documents no longer have to be photocopied and sent by mail.
  • Guarantee the durability and permanence of documents over time.
  • Create information products with value added.
  • Transfer digitization knowledge and practices, not only to those centers participating in the CANDHI network, but also to other institutions in the region interested in this initiative.
  • Other services and products based on document digitization.
  • CDs on various topics: CRID will create a series of interactive CDs that will help expand its services using an electronic means other than the Internet. This CD series has an average of 100 full-text documents on topics such as early warning, human settlements, avian flu, health and hurricanes, myths and realities of natural disasters, and many others. Information on the CDs can be retrieved by subtopic or through a user-friendly internal search engine. Each CD also has a website section for users to visit, and a contact list of people and institutions who are specialists in this field.
  • Photographic material: Based on the methodology used in document processing, a new service has recently been created for digitizing photographic material so that users have more quality material at their disposal related to health and disasters.
  • Audiovisual material: Soon, a collection of audiovisual material will also be digitized, converting them from analog forms like VHS to DVD formats.

Transfer of knowledge

The experience acquired has led other organizations and institutions interested in improving their information services to seek out our organization for training sessions on the subject. These organizations and training sessions include:

  • CLAMED (Latin American Center for Disaster Medicine) in Havana, July 2006.
  • INDECI-MINSA (Peruvian National Institute of Civil Defense- Peruvian Ministry of Health) in Lima, December 2005.
  • CNE (Costa Rican National Emergency Commission) in San José, November 2005.
  • CANDHI network (Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information) in San Salvador, November 2005.
  • CEPRODE (Disaster Protection Center) in San José, October 2005.
  • CEDO-CNE (Documentation Center of the Costa Rican National Emergency Commission) in San José, October 2005.
  • CENDIRR (National Center for Documentation and Information for Risk Reduction in Panama) in San José, October 2005.
  • IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) in Panama City, September 2005.
  • CANDHI Network (Central American Network for Health and Disaster Information) in Panama City, May 2005.
  • PAHO (Pan-American Health Organization, Andean Region, Cuba, Costa Rica and Chile) in Lima, November 2004.
  • INDECI (National Civil Defense Institute of Peru), in Lima, November 2004.
  • CANDHI (Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information), in Guatemala City, February 2004.

CRID has provided ongoing support to each of the documentation centers that constitute CANDHI network, not only by offering training sessions on the methodology developed by the technical team, but also by providing support for their digitization processes via email, phone, and online consultations of a manual detailing all of these experiences. In addition, every month, CRID sends approximately 250 newly digitized documents to network centers, in order to strengthen access to information on disasters in each country.
Digitization in Project Management

The digitization of documents has been an important part of project management for organizations and institutions at all levels, especially those that work on the issue of risk reduction. Among the documents converted into electronic form are:

  • CD: “Disaster Risk Reduction 1994-2004”. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR/UN).
  • CD: Information on Risk Management in Costa Rica. Costa Rican National Emergency Commission (CNE).
  • CD: “Early Warning in Perspective: Compilation o f Cases, Experiences and Lessons Learned.” German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ).
  • CD with information sources on related topics: training for strengthening local capacity in disaster management. Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
  • CD: Analysis of vulnerabilities and capacities in community education projects. CRREC (Regional Reference Center on Community Education for Disaster Prevention).
  • CD with information sources on seismology, education, and related topics, prepared for the VIII Venezuelan Congress on Seismology and Seismic Engineering “Education, an Essential Element in the Prevention of Natural Disasters,” held in Valencia, Venezuela, May 17-19, 2006, in the School of Civil Engineering, Department of Engineering, of the University of Carabobo.

CRID has also developed additional services, including the adaptation of educational material to virtual environments, as part of its strategy for growth and positioning within the international market. One example is the interactive material included in the series of modules titled “…Es mejor prevenir” [...Prevention is better], developed by the Regional Reference Center for Community Education on Risk Reduction (CRREC) of the IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies).

For further information about the digitization process, contact:
The Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID)
P.O. Box 3745-1000 San José, Costa Rica