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

In the Spotlight: The Role of the University


Cuba: Natural Disasters And The Construction Industry—A Matter Of Defense Preparedness

Eduardo Leal Acosta, Associate Professor, is Chief of the Defense Preparedness Department of the School of Civil Engineering at the Faculty of Construction of Camaguey University.
Manuel Escariz Arias, Associate Professor, is a member of the DPD, and the Chief of Environmental Conditioning at the Faculty of Construction.
Joaquín López Miranda, Assistant Professor, is head of Defense Preparedness at the School of Architecture of the Faculty of Construction. María E. Rabassa Guerra, Assistant Professor, is a specialist in Geotechnics at the Faculty of Construction.

Defense Preparedness is both a philosophy and the duty of every government to its citizens. It aims to protect the population in the event not only of an armed conflict, but also of natural disasters. In Cuba, it is governed by Law N° 75, and Camaguey University, in the island’s mid-eastern region, has integrated Defense Preparedness into its architecture and civil engineering curricula.

In 1975, the Defense Preparedness System (DPS) for university students was launched. In its present form, one of its objectives is to provide future professionals, depending on their chosen discipline, the knowledge required to incorporate disaster reduction into their work. The following are some of the areas covered:

  • Civil defense.
  • Procedures for making economic and social development compatible with defense needs in the case of both armed conflict and natural disasters.
  • The movement of human and material resources, including evacuation systems for the civil population in both types of contingencies.
  • The responsibilities of the government, non-governmental organizations, and the general population in the event of a disaster or conflict.
  • The training of subordinate staff in disaster prevention.
  • The ability to assess the protection systems of other entities.

The program is intended to provide the tools needed for Defense Preparedness and make sure that the professionals are trained to use them as effectively as possible.


The Discipline Of Defense Preparedness

In 1999, the Ministry of Higher Education modified the architecture and civil engineering curricula to reinforce the study of Defense Preparedness and its incorporation into the students’ research and future work. These two professional profiles involve a great deal of social responsibility, since they play a major role in the protection of the population, the economy, and the environment.

Architecture and civil engineering students must now spend 70 hours studying Defense Preparedness, and their knowledge in this field is not only tested during the actual Defense Preparedness classes but throughout their future years of study, in each of the subjects they are required to learn.
The architecture program covers the following areas:

  • The compatibilization of economic and social development with defense interests. Consultation mechanisms, and processes for harmonizing investments.
  • Fundamentals of civil defense. Purpose and objectives, missions and measures. Organization and management in normal times and during catastrophes.
  • Disaster management. General concepts. Main characteristics and consequences of natural and manmade disasters. Measures. Hazard, risk, and vulnerability assessments. Risk mapping. Mitigation, evacuation, rehabilitation and reconstruction plans.
  • Hazards and vulnerability considerations in the design, construction and use of investments. The relationship between the environment and the built object. Form and vulnerability. Structural and functional vulnerability. Vulnerability of buildings and human settlements to fires, natural disasters and technological catastrophes. Measures to reduce vulnerability at the design, construction, and use stages. General planning criteria, including microlocation and infrastructure, classification of cities and economic objectives, tourism development areas, industrial parks, and health facilities. Accessibility of buildings and human settlements for evacuation purposes in the event or war or a disaster. Salvage and urgent repairs. Influence of design on organizational prevention measures. Environmental impact assessments to prevent disasters. Dual-use buildings for emergency use. Architectonic programs that must continue to function during war or catastrophes. Cost-benefit analysis of preventive measures.

The contents are integrated into the disciplines of Architectural Projects, Environmental Conditioning, Structural Design, and Construction Technology, Economics and Management. Some of the contents are covered in several subjects at the same time, so that students see Defense Preparedness as one of the pillars of their field of study.

In civil engineering, Defense Preparedness is studied in such subjects as Structural Analysis and Design, Transportation and Roads, and Construction Technology, Economics and Management. The areas covered include the following:

  • Civil defense systems. Principles and objectives of civil defense systems. Protecting the population and the economy in the event of war or natural disasters. Salvage and urgent repairs, and the role of engineers in explosions, hurricanes, severe rainstorms and earthquakes.
  • Basic principles of national defense, organizations and procedures. Integrating defense into economic and social development, land-use planning and building investments.
  • Disaster management. Types of disasters and their consequences for the country. Hazard, risk and vulnerability assessments. Prevention, mitigation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. Protecting human settlements, buildings, building-material production facilities, water supply and sewage systems, and roads.
  • Elements of seismic engineering. Cuban seismic code and winds code. Cost-benefit analysis for prevention and mitigation works.

Since this ambitious training program was only implemented in 1999, professionals who graduated earlier are encouraged to improve their knowledge of the areas outlined above through continuing education. At the moment, university authorities are considering the possibility of developing a special postgraduate program to teach practicing professionals the principles of Defense Preparedness.


A Few Conclusions

Different geographical and geopolitical regions may feel a greater or lesser need for Defense Preparedness to prevent or mitigate the impact of natural or manmade disasters. However, no area of the planet can be entirely free from this imperative. Global phenomena such as El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) affect the agenda of non-governmental organizations and governments everywhere. At the same time, the widening global gap between rich and poor, and the geopolitical and hegemonic interests of national powers and transnational monopolies, may unleash ethnic or civil conflicts in any region of the world.

Any responsible professional must now be conversant with disaster reduction. If the professional works in the construction industry, his or her efforts to keep up to date in this field are even more essential. From the stage of design all the way to the completion of a building, architects and engineers must take into account criteria such an environmental protection, sustainability, security and civil defense.

The Faculty of Construction of Camaguey University has forged links with the National Union of Architects and Building Engineers to learn about their standards and code of ethics. It has also talked with design and construction firms to learn about their interactions with Civil Defense, firefighter corps, and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

Although the program is very recent, results so far have been highly satisfactory. Students show a great deal of motivation and a sense of responsibility about their role in Defense Preparedness. Some have already presented research findings at the National Conference of Architecture Students, and at scientific conferences at the Faculty and University.



National Commission of Architecture Studies. National Commission of Civil Engineering Studies. Reymundo Quesada Romero, Sistema de Preparación para la Defensa de los Estudiantes de los Centros de Educación Superior, Havana, Editorial Félix Varela, 1999.

For more information, please contact:
Eduardo Leal Acosta
Head of Defense Preparedness
School of Civil Engineering
Faculty of Construction, Camaguey University