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


Integrated Risk Management: A Holistic Vision of Disaster
Prevention and Response

By Omar Darío Cardona, Academic Director of CEDERI

The Risk Assessment and Disaster Prevention Postgraduate Program of the Disasters and Risk Studies Center (CEDERI) of the University of the Andes in Bogota, Colombia, was conceived from the start as an integrated higher education program that would involve all relevant disciplines and sectors. By August 2000, the Faculty of engineering and its Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering will have a hundred alumni and postgraduate students who have been trained in risk management. Physicians, lawyers, psychologists, architects, sociologists, social communicators, geologists, economists, political scientists, systems engineers, and civil, mechanical, industrial and mining engineers are now qualified Specialists in Risk Management.

Many of them now work in the private sector, in industrial and occupational safety, risk and insurance management, and vulnerability assessment companies. In the public sector, they work for disaster prevention agencies, civil defense departments, emergency management organizations, and planning and environmental management institutions. They also work for civil society organizations, such as NGOs, foundations, or housing corporations, and for academic institutions, as teachers and researchers. All this has been achieved thanks to a vision of disaster prevention as multidisciplinary, interinstitutional, multisectoral—and a key component of all development efforts.

The program includes a course on International Strategies, which analyzes the national and regional processes of the recently concluded International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR) and its new institutional avatar, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). This contribution of the University of the Andes to Colombian society will soon be available to foreign students without having to leave their country of residence. CEDERI is in negotiations with the Latin American Social Studies Network for Disaster Prevention (La RED) to offer the program over the Internet. The academic staff has participated in many CEDERI research and extension projects for the national, municipal, and public-sector institutions that make up the National Disaster Prevention and Response System. These projects, some of them designed and implemented at the request of international agencies, are used in class as examples, allowing students to integrate theory with practical examples and case studies developed by the faculty. This should be of value to professionals abroad who already have substantial work experience, but need to perfect their conceptual and practical knowledge of disaster reduction as provided by an institution that is respected throughout Latin America and has had ample experience in continuing-education courses on natural disasters and risk management since the early 1990s.

The following five modules make up the program, and reveal the multidisciplinary and integrated vision that guides it, combining technical, scientific, economic, social, cultural and institutional aspects.

Module I
Disaster Theory.

The objective of the module is to study the nature of disasters, describe the characteristics of the natural and social phenomena associated with the occurrence of disasters, understand the difference between hazards, vulnerability and risk, and promote the analysis of the social and organizational factors that influence the course of natural disasters and the need for an integrated vision. There are two subjects:

  • Characteristics of disasters. The concepts of crisis and disaster are presented and discussed in their various interpretations. Students assess the various factors related to the occurrence of a disaster, including not only physical but also social, cultural, institutional and economic factors. Specific natural phenomena are studied, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and hydrometeorological events, and the temporal, spatial and demographic dimensions of disasters.
  • Disasters and development models. In this class, the causes of disasters are discussed from a historical perspective. Disasters are seen as processes that evolve and change depending on social and economic transformations. Specific disasters are discussed at the national and international level, as is the relationship between catastrophic events and the development process of the societies in question. Students compare the causes and implications of disasters in regions with different levels of development, and discuss the relationship between environment, vulnerability, and development models.

Module II
Risk Assessment.

The objective of this module is to study techniques for identifying and modeling the factors that determine the occurrence of disasters. Hazard, vulnerability, and risk analyses are conducted, including a look at technical and social aspects. Students learn the criteria for determining acceptable levels of risk as part of strategic decision-making, prevention, and planning. Hazard, vulnerability, and risk are integrated conceptually through the additional concepts of security and reliability. Two subjects make up the module:

  • Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment. Hazards are studied as catalysts for the occurrence of a disaster. Criteria for identifying, assessing and modeling hazards are discussed. The concept of vulnerability is defined, and techniques and methodologies are discussed for identifying potential damage scenarios. Students learn about the physical, social and cultural factors that determine damage potential and the vulnerability of a community, understood as an indicator of development and quality of life.
  • Risk Assessment and Analysis. In this class, students discuss the key factors for assessing the probability of a disaster in different contexts. The type and magnitude of the expected social, economic and environmental losses are identified, and tools are presented for diagnosis, evaluation, modeling, and risk mapping and analysis. The concepts of security and reliability are discussed, including their technical, social, and economic aspects.

Module III
Disasters, Risk and Sustainability.

The objective of this module is to study disasters in the context of the environment, identifying major environmental risks. The consequences of disasters for the urban environment and habitat are analyzed in the short, medium, and long term. Different alternatives for assessing technological and biological risk due to toxic waste and water pollution, among other factors, are presented. The following two subjects are studied:

  • Manmade and Industrial Risks. The chief industrial risks are identified, as are the consequences for the environment of industrial and technological accidents. Students evaluate the social and economic losses that can be caused by the use of polluting or dangerous technologies. Risk is analyzed from the perspective of public health.
  • Disasters and Sustainable Development. The concept of environmental security is defined and discussed. Methodologies and strategies are presented for assessing environmental impact and its relation to risk assessment. Various alternatives are discussed for determining an acceptable level of environmental degradation, as well as the question of the urban environment and its connection with vulnerability and risk generation. The influence of environmental degradation on the occurrence of natural disasters is analyzed. Students learn about preventive management processes as sustainable development strategies, look at global changes in the environment, and discuss sustainable human development at the international level.

Module IV
Prevention, Mitigation and Response.

The objective is to study the various ways in which hazards and vulnerability can be mitigated to reduce the risk of earthquakes, landslides, floods, hurricanes, and other phenomena through direct physical intervention—for instance, the structural reinforcement of buildings and lifelines—and other means. Students analyze and discuss non-structural methods, such as emergency preparedness plans, education and public information, land-use management, and building codes. Two subjects are taught:

  • Prevention and Mitigation Measures. Students learn about the most effective prevention measures to reduce risk through engineering methods, including vulnerability reduction of buildings and lifelines. They discuss the main social and economic obstacles to physical prevention, and alternatives to reduce risk through complementary non-structural methods. Strategies to improve standards, legislation, education and public information, land-use management, building codes and general planning are presented and evaluated.
  • Early Warning Systems and Emergency Preparedness. Early warning systems are discussed as preventive measures, including their benefits and limitations. Risk perception is analyzed, as is the social and cultural response to risk and disasters. Guidelines are given to design emergency and contingency plans. Operational action and response strategies are defined, and the social, cultural and economic factors connected to rehabilitation and reconstruction are discussed.

Module V
Administration and Institutional Policies.

The objective is to study institutional organization, risk management, and disaster preparedness, including negotiation strategies and techniques to secure the participation of the community and social organizations in mitigation and prevention policies. Existing institutional management models are analyzed. Global, regional and national trends in disaster management are presented, and the twin issues of vulnerability and the feasibility of sustainable development are analyzed from the point of view of political economy. Two subjects are studied:

  • Management and Planning for Prevention. Disaster management policies and standards are analyzed, including the laws establishing national civil protection or disaster management systems. Specific cases are presented in which those systems have been put to the test. Legislation from other countries, including developed countries, is analyzed. The issue of disasters and risk is discussed from the point of view of sustainable development, environmental protection, vulnerable communities, and the notion of progress. The main factors that favor the accumulation of vulnerability in the process of growth and urbanization are discussed, and national and regional trends in planning, prevention, and development are analyzed.
  • Political economy and international strategies. Crisis and disaster management is evaluated from a political and ethical point of view. The relationship between political and economic factors is discussed, as well as the role of international politics and bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies. Increases in vulnerability are seen as a result of unsustainable development. Prevention, mitigation, and planning are viewed in the context of international accords and conferences. The national and regional achievements during the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction are analyzed, as are the challenges that remain.

For more information, please contact:
Omar Darío Cardona Arboleda, Academic Coordinator
Mauricio Sánchez Silva, Administrative Coordinator
Departamento de Ingeniería Civil y Ambiental
Universidad de los Andes
Carrera 1ª No. 18 A – 70,
Bogotá, Colombia
Tels. +(57 1) 332 43 12 y 332 43 15
Fax 332 43 13