Information Management for Strategic Disaster Risk Management in the Republic of Cuba


Foto: J. J. Trelles

Foto: © J. J. Trelles

During the last decade, we have focused our research on developing methodologies aimed at contributing the cognitive elements needed to develop effective disaster prevention strategies in our country, fulfilling in this way the mission of CITMA in the National Civil Defense System.

Our strategy is based on a prospective model where pre-disaster scenarios studies (PDS) are recognized as basic elements for comprehensive risk management at the local level (CRML). Both of these aspects are defining factors in the adoption of disaster risk management strategies (Guasch, 2006).

In Cuba, the work today is based on managing information to achieve two higher objectives in the field of disaster management. The first objective is the ability to predict disasters (through PDSs). The second is comprehensive disaster risk prevention through strategic management (SM), defined as a function that relates to reactive management, corrective management, and prospective management, and whose primary goal is to integrate multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral actions into the civil defense system in order to enhance the safe development of our population.

Results of the research conducted have been validated in various risk scenarios and have served as a basis for assessing the impact of the diverse natural and manmade events that have hit the country and have led to establishing new management goals. These goals include the creation of indicators for assessing the impact on main sub-scenarios (natural, constructed physical, social, and economic), the effectiveness of interventions for prevention and mitigation, and the resilience built in communities.

Key words: management, risk, disasters, prevention, community resilience.


In the study of disasters, we have learned that the most complex and urgent action in the disaster reduction cycle is precisely all that is related to risk management.

Many researchers and decision makers at different levels who are immersed in the popular area of disaster management create programs and projects without realizing the importance of having a good cognitive base, which is crucial to be able to effectively lead actions. Everyone wants to be involved in addressing existing risks without a full understanding of what it means or complete knowledge of the causes that produce them. The objective becomes the “what” without clarity about the “how.”

In the formulation of our prospective strategy, we argue for its primary components, which are seen as systemic actions that ensure prevention. From our point of view, this is the most effective method for reducing the probability that natural and man-made phenomena will continue to turn into disasters.

With pre-disaster scenario studies, we are guaranteed the proactive component of our strategy which is also a guarantee of the information needed to develop management strategies. However, it is useless to conduct countless studies if we do not make adequate use of their results. The “what to do” and the “how to do it” are, from our point of view, essential elements for the adequate treatment of disaster management at the local level. With comprehensive risk management at the local level (CRML), the proactive component of our strategy is defined along with the arguments for our prospective vision of “natural disasters.”


Our studies confirm that it is not possible to have a holistic risk approach without focusing holistically on its fundamental components —which involves risk calculation and vulnerability assessment, especially the factors that lead to this vulnerability.

Risk is a complex and dynamic function and it is difficult to model a probable future situation in the present. It is precisely because of this that we propose the recognition of the need for a prospective vision for analysis. This is the most complex component in the study of both natural and man-made disasters.

When risk is discussed, various conjectures are made, probabilities are calculated, and predictions emerge about possible impact. In reality, however, the main problem associated with risk —and because of this, we have considered various points of view of international experts— is that it is a dynamic variable, and many strategies and policies (from prevention to development) try to treat it as a static, immobile variable. This leads to great errors in perception and treatment.

We defend the idea of looking at risk in a prospective way, as a function that can be characterized for a specific scenario through two fundamental attributes, which are:

  1. Genesis
  2. Tendency

From this perspective, risk can be seen in function of development as a vector variable. With “genesis,” we determine the cause and the factors that lead to it in the surrounding area-scenario system; and with “tendency,” we can analyze the effectiveness of disaster-related policies and strategies and characterize them as ascendant or descendant.

The tendency tells us where we are moving —towards development or towards disaster. If we are not aware of hazards and vulnerabilities are exacerbated, the tendency is for risk to increase. These reflections will undoubtedly allow us to project successful interventions for effective disaster risk management.

Models For Strategic Disaster Risk Management

Risk management models have evolved over time as civilization has developed and expressed ongoing concern about finding appropriate ways to intervene in the problem. In the modern era, the models have grown out of a retrospective analysis. Tendencies that have developed in this area since the middle of the last century are the following:

  • Descriptive models
  • Cause-effect models
  • Emergency models
  • Predictive models (phenomenon vs. impact)
  • Risk administration and management models
  • Risk transfer models
  • Prospective models

Currently, the last four models are being used or projected in interventions at the international level, generally in an independent fashion. In our country we work in coordination with our 160 municipalities on risk management based on identified hazards that are seen as preludes to disaster.

As a research center, we are now working on prospective models, and this has led us to formulate a Strategic Management Model for Comprehensive Disaster Prevention. The goal of the model is to coordinate actions related to disaster and risk administration and management in a specific scenario, in order to ensure not only the physical wellbeing of people, but also to protect the environment, the economy, and society in general.

This models starts by recognizing three fundamental management phases for disaster risk administration.

They are:

  • Reactive Management
  • Corrective Management
  • Prospective Management

The following section will address the primary characteristics of each of these, in order to discuss their strengths and weaknesses, and especially to highlight the need to integrate efforts that allow real risk management to be achieved in our countries, communities, and peoples.

Reactive management (RESPONSE actions)

  • This is the prevailing model in our region and our country.
  • It is based on emergency and crisis management.
  • It is effective when there is imminent danger.
  • It is more applicable to slow-forming hazards like hurricanes.
  • If quick, effective action is taken, it can minimize the impact of a disaster.
  • It is based on contingency plans, response capacity, organization, planning, resources, and prior training.
  • It has a temporary effect. When the hazard comes to an end, people return to living with the vulnerabilities and risks that existed previously.

According to our organization model, the following elements are basic requirements for applying this model:

  • Pre-disaster scenarios studies that allow hazards to be estimated, vulnerabilities to be analyzed, and risk areas to be zoned.
  • Political will that is expressed as an interest in saving people’s lives.
  • Community preparedness.

Corrective management (PREVENTION actions)

  • It is based on the analysis of vulnerability, risk evaluations, and situational assessments.
  • In this phase it is essential to identify types of vulnerabilities and the factors that lead to them.
  • Vulnerability factors and related interventions are put in order according to their importance.
  • A mitigation program is adopted.
  • Corrective management is complex; it must be integrative, allowing adequate identification and treatment of the causes of risk.
  • Generally, the scope is limited by economic barriers. However, the legal, organizational, and operational aspects do not require large amounts of resources to reduce vulnerability and have a significant influence on the scale of disasters.

Prospective management (FUTURE actions)

  • This begins with planning for future scenarios (starting with the most real scenarios), classifying the exposure, analyzing probable paths, and addressing the need to respond to severe and catastrophic events in time.
  • It requires prevention to be a part of development planning.
  • It requires risk analysis to be part of programs and projects.
  • Risk becomes a definitive part of economic feasibility analyses and analysis of investment processes.
  • It allows to visualize how real scenarios are transformed over time into safe scenarios.
  • It is one of the ways to consolidate sustainable development in our region and our country.
  • It is a primary component for adopting development models.

We can summarize strategic management with the following expression:

In the figure below we can see the correlation that must be established between the various components of management. It shows how as corrective action increases, the demand for reactive management decreases. In other words, by investing in vulnerability and risk reduction in our communities, we will be able to minimize demand in emergency situations.

This figure shows the most important elements to be considered in the various phases as well as the various models used.


  1. This research shows the contribution of Cuban science to disaster prevention and risk management programs in the Republic of Cuba.
  2. Information and environmental management processes are pillars of comprehensive disaster risk management.
  3. The design of a type of strategic management that integrates actions within a specific scenario allows more rationality, efficiency, and effectiveness in prevention and mitigation interventions.
  4. Increased corrective management leads to a decrease in vulnerabilities and in risk areas. Then, there is less unsafe exposure and less demand for people to be evacuated, and so the demand for reactive management will also decrease. In other words, by investing in vulnerability and risk reduction in our communities, we will be able to minimize demand in emergency situations.


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