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


Medellín’s Municipal Disaster Prevention and Response System (SIMPAD) and the Community Network for Disaster Prevention and Response

The Community Network for Disaster Prevention and Response is a mechanism that allows residents, not just of the city’s high-risk areas, but of the whole city, to be prepared to prevent or respond to an emergency or disaster. The concept has evolved over time. The initial idea was to establish committees at the district level. However, it was soon seen that greater grassroots participation would only take place if emergency committees were created in every neighborhood. The time may come when every city block will have its own committee, perhaps even every building and every family, in the sense that people will have clearly defined roles to perform in preventing or responding to an emergency.

Colombia’s National Disaster Prevention and Response System serves as an umbrella for all public and private entities involved in plans, programs, projects, or specific activities aimed at disaster reduction. The System has defined a National Plan outlining all relevant policies, whether sectoral, national, regional, or local.

The city of Medellín, eager to play its role at the local government level, decided in 1994 to create its own Municipal Disaster Prevention and Response System (SIMPAD).

The System, created by Municipal Resolution No. 14/1994, has the following mission: “Leading and coordinating the policies and actions required for disaster prevention, as well as for response and recovery in the event of an emergency or disaster, furthering the development of a preventive attitude in the Medellín community through educational, planning, and organizational processes in alignment with the city’s development plans.”

The Municipal Disaster Prevention and Response System’s main goal is promoting a culture of prevention in the municipality, including the participation of the community in its programs and projects. One of the key projects citywide is the strengthening of community organization for emergency prevention and response, including committees at the level of districts, neighborhoods, and even specific streets where necessary.

Agreements with several universities have helped SIMPAD develop its strategy for encouraging community participation, which makes the latest academic findings available and confronts them creatively with the first-hand experience of local government officials and community members.

An Open And Participatory System

The Community Network is an organized, open, and participatory system that can link up the knowledge, practices, and skills of individuals, non-governmental and community organizations, and government institutions. The structure enables them to attain common goals on the basis of similar challenges, maximizing resources and solving problems that would be hard to manage in isolation.

Working as a Community Network enables every member of the neighborhood committees, and every committee, to define objectives, share experiences, and work together to improve their quality of life. At the same time, it creates a new vision that makes it possible for community members to transform the conditions of risk in which they live.

The impact of the Community Network on disaster prevention and response can be gauged from the following facts:

  • The committees have participated actively in 90% of the emergencies that have affected the city, establishing chains of communication, providing first aid, supporting the evacuation of families, removing rubble, finding shelters, obtaining resources, and participating in the implementation of mitigation measures.
  • Their prevention activities led to a decrease in the number of emergencies reported, even though this coincided with 10 months of torrential rain due to the La Niña phenomenon.
  • Committee members have been empowered by the training they have received in first aid, relief and rescue operation, and prevention strategies, as well as by the recognition of other municipal entities, the mass media, and the public at large.
  • Each neighborhood has reduced its vulnerability through preventive campaigns and concrete actions such as cleaning rivers and brooks to prevent flooding, community
    waste collection, reforestation of degraded areas, evacuation drills, and the building of mitigation structures.
  • The community has established permanent communication channels with City Hall to present projects, seek funding, and make community appeals for government action.
  • Other Colombian cities have become interested in the project, and their local emergency committees have asked for training materials and visits to guide them in the management of high-risk areas.
  • Four workshops lasting several days have been held to apply the knowledge provided, with excellent results.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the commitment and high participation of the neighborhood committees, and their insatiable demand for greater training, have forced project organizers—to their delight—to strengthen the academic process, creating six levels for a total of 240 hours of training in disaster prevention and response, with unified curricula and practices involving subjects such as ethics and values, health, land management, emergency plans, and the design and assessment of projects.

For more information, please contact:
Dra. Nora Eugenia Villegas
Directora, SIMPAD
Tel (574) 2626131
Fax (574) 3811497