Disaster information management: 20 Years later, and we have barely begun

From information explosion to specialized information

By Isabel López (Coordinator, CRID) and Ricardo Pérez (Consultant, PAHO/WHO)

Too much information and not enough time or opportunity to use it. This is the complaint increasingly heard from Internet users around the world. Now we do have information, but in such overabundance that it creates confusion and anxiety about whether the information that reaches us — or to which we have access — is really the data we need and that will help us. Quantity versus quality: that is the dilemma in all fields of study.

The fields of risk and disaster management are no exception to this. If only ten or fifteen years ago it was common for organizations and professionals to acknowledge fundamental limitations to the availability of suitable technical information, in recent years the resources and output from various sources has multiplied. This is largely due to the proliferation of actors and partners from different sectors that have developed new programs and boosted production, and the demand, for information on the issue. But greater quantity is not necessarily a positive solution; this increasingly complex subject requires more sophisticated solutions.

A thematic session conducted during the last Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas, held on March 17-20 in Panama, looked specifically at the issue of information and knowledge. During this session, a group of specialists debated information-related challenges, problems of current concern and, above all, the impact information should have in order to contribute to disaster risk reduction.

As noted during that session, there are significant benefits associated with investments in information management: information facilitates coordination between stakeholders, it permits efficient use of resources, it preserves the historical memory, it identifies and disseminates lessons learned, it strengthens the development of human resources and research processes, and, most importantly, it helps those in the risk management field to make more efficient and effective decisions.

The subject of information and its relation to risk management is by no means new in the Americas, and a brief review shows that the initiatives in this regard have been numerous and varied.

The beginning of the 90’s witnessed the creation of the Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID), followed shortly thereafter by the initiatives of the Network of Social Studies in the Prevention of Disasters in Latin America (La Red) and the specialized centers of the Central American Network for Disaster and Health Information (Red CANDHI), and, most recently, the Andean Network of Virtual Libraries for Disaster Prevention and Response (BiVa-PaD), the Andean Information Center for Disaster Prevention and Response (SIAPAD), Desaprender of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the Regional Humanitarian Information Network Project (Redhum). These initiatives and efforts have been outstanding. And we should also make a list (perhaps a longer one) of advances and successes at the national level.

Progress has been significant, given the many difficulties inherent to the issue: scarcity of information in Spanish, widespread technical difficulties, problems with availability and use of communications networks, few players, and a general absence of a “culture of information” in the majority of organizations which oversaw disaster issues at the time.

Nonetheless, if we are to continue moving forward, it is necessary to acknowledge the problems that still exist, in practice. Many complain of a resource glut, that the information does not get to those who need it, or at least not at the right moment or with the necessary attributes to be useful. Observers point to persistent gaps, due not only to barriers to technology access and use, but also because of the limited production of quality content in Spanish. In most cases, moreover, the available information is disorganized or poorly classified.

To cut down on many of these problems, information intermediaries have become more necessary and relevant today than ever before. These include centers specializing in information, as well as the professionals who introduce some order and quality into this spider’s web of resources, all of which must be selected, prioritized, and better oriented to the varied requirements of the users.

CRID: Moving towards more specialized information

For several years, CRID has been feeling that same need for information with greater value added: more specialized, higher-quality information that allows for its optimum use when decisions have to be made.

With this in mind, CRID has embarked upon an effort to produce a line of products and services designed to meet this need. A number of these products, mentioned below, share several features:

  • They are not exhaustive, but rather selective in the documentation and information that they include. Technical relevance and pertinence are sought;
  • They are built in collaboration with experts in each topic. As such, they provide a technical analysis of the documents — not merely a bibliographical or documentary one;
  • They include value-added information: for example, training materials, contact information for specialists, special links to the web, etc., on each of the subjects; and
  • They are selectively distributed. That is, they have much more definite and specific audiences, which we have to continue identifying and getting to know better.

A large part of this work is related to information in the fields of public health and risk management, in close collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO). Beginning several months ago — coinciding with the information efforts of the United Nations World Disaster Reduction Campaign— CRID and PAHO have created a web portal on hospitals safe from Disasters, which permits access to a carefully assembled collection of technical information on the subject. It is intended for institutions and professionals in the region, both from the health sector and other stakeholders who are working to achieve safer health facilities, so that they continue functioning and providing services during and after a disaster.

This portal is a reference point for specialized information and shares a collection of documents and technical materials, from the most general aspects to the structural, non-structural, and functional elements of safe hospitals during disasters. Compared with other information sources dealing with the same subject, the CRID page compiles, in one place, the main existing publications, as well as a series of complementary resources relating to education, advocacy, and training, and even a directory of relevant individuals and organizations in each country of the region.

Image of CRID’s specialized portal on hospitals safe from disaster

Information to facilitate emergency and disaster response. In speaking of emergencies and disasters, it is important that the supply of “quality information” be compatible with the requirement for it. This is to say that it should be available in the moment and in the place where it is needed.

The specialized portal created by CRID on the A(H1N1) flu is a good example. The flow of information has been continuous since the beginning of this health emergency. Health agencies from different countries and international bodies began presenting information meant to guide professionals and the public at large on how to respond to the emergency situation. Because of the sheer volume of information, it was necessary to begin to organize it, in order to improve access to it.

Image of the specialized portal on the A(H1N1) Flu

In this sense, CRID, in collaboration with the Pan-American Health Organization, undertook the task of compiling widely-dispersed materials, in order to improve access to the information. At the same time, a section was created for monitoring emergencies and facilitating access to a variety of recommendations for prevention and control, information for specific groups (materials for work centers, schools, restaurants, health staff, media, etc.), technical documents (laboratory and virology guides, communications plans, clinic management and infection control, medication and vaccines, and so forth), national response plans, materials for radio and television, scientific magazines and articles, and a virtual training program developed by PAHO.

Education and risk management. CRID has distinguished itself by its multidisciplinary approach to disaster-related issues. The search for specialized, high-quality information that is user-friendly requires an in-depth look into other fundamental areas of risk management, such as education. CRID — in partnership with UNICEF and other organizations — has begun a project for selecting and organizing information, integrating the fundamental issues it has worked on in Latin America: curriculum placement and teachers’ training, preparedness and teaching plans, education on emergency situations, infrastructure protection, and other related issues. The project will include a specialized portal on education and risk management in the upcoming months.

Practical tools and guides on disaster preparedness. Other examples of this effort to assemble information of high quality and relevance are the activities that are part of a special project financed by ECHO (as part of the Sixth DIPECHO Action Plan for Central America). CRID is working on practical guidelines for disaster preparedness, which will offer a digest of tools and information resources that can be of use to decision makers, project managers, administrators, and other social actors who may want to take actions in this area, with the goal of having a compendium of similar initiatives that can offer a starting point, with lessons from past experiences and practical ways of assuring sustainability.

While these initiatives alone cannot assure that interested parties will have access to and, above all, be able to use the information they need — given the other technological, social, economic, and cultural variables in play — we are confident that they are a step in the right direction, thanks to the efforts and interest placed in the compilation of quality information, prior selection, and technical analysis.

In a region with many initiatives intended for providing information, it is in the quality and specialization domain that CRID wishes to establish its niche.

This is the working philosophy required to transmit data to the network of information centers specializing in disasters that CRID works with in Central America and the Andean countries. The space in which these centers work — including CRID itself — has changed diametrically. Where before the work was oriented toward systematizing collections of documents on disaster-related issues, — which, in many cases, constituted the historical memory of those countries — today the challenge faced relates to the specialization, segmentation, and the selection and dissemination of resources that put quality first, not quantity. These centers and libraries are better prepared today and can reliably take on this challenge, but they cannot do it alone. Relationships and interaction with organizations and disaster experts are very important. And so is networking and collaboration with other information centers, offering complementary products and services on the Internet.

And, of course, greater commitment is needed, at the time of equipping newly-developing disaster information management programs with technical and economic resources, to better understand the needs of our users and to provide services and information resources of the highest caliber and simplest access possible.

For further information, please send an email to isabel.lopez@crid.or.cr or perezric@pan.ops-oms.org

Publication Of The First Official Risk Management Guide For Basic Education Teachers

The first risk management guide was officially released in April 2009 in Ica, Peru. “Risk Management in Educational Institutions: A Guide for Basic Education Teachers” was prepared by the Disaster Prevention and Local Governance Program, managed by Practical Solutions / Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), in coordination with the Office for Community-Based and Environmental Education (DIEGA), of the Peruvian Ministry of Education.

The guide was developed in the context of a project on risk management political advocacy that ITDG has been promoting during the last few years. Its primary goal is to incorporate a formal approach to risk management into the public agenda of the Ministry of Education. To this end, a number of efforts were coordinated with different institutions. Other efforts have been devoted for risk management capacity building with children and the education community at large.

In developing this guide, a number of working sessions and focal groups were held and organized by the Ministry of Education and Practical Solutions / ITDG. The meetings were attended by representatives of different institutions, including PREDES, UNICEF, Save the Children, GTZ, CARE and PREDECAN, a project of the Andean Community of Nations. Materials related to risk management in educational institutions were reviewed, and consensus was reached in terms of the concepts and methodology to be used.

The guide will be disseminated among all educational institutions in Peru, so that teachers are able to fully incorporate this approach into their school activities. The timing of the publication was just right, since a new national curriculum design was also released in 2009. The new curriculum design includes risk management as one of its cross-cutting approaches.

Gabriela del Castillo Vigil
Disaster Prevention and Local
Governance Program - PDGL
Practical Solutions - ITDG     
Av. Jorge Chavez 275 - Miraflores
Tel. 447-5127 x 241

GFDRR Track 1: Building Regional and Global Partnerships.Giving Risk Reduction a Regional Dimension. UNISDR

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction called for greater response to the main challenges of creating an enabling environment for disaster reduction and empowering partners to achieve their goals in implementing the Hyogo Framework. The GFDRR is clearly positioned as a centerpiece of the international disaster reduction strategy, complementing and reinforcing ongoing efforts of ISDR stakeholders in disaster reduction, with Track I as a key element of ISDR’s network of international cooperation. This publication review the last impacts achieved by the UNISDR system with support of the GFDRR in the world.


Climate Change and Water

The idea of a special IPCC publication dedicated to water and climate change dates back to the 19th IPCC Session held in Geneva in April 2002, when the Secretariat of the World Climate Programme – Water and the International Steering Committee of the Dialogue on Water and Climate requested that the IPCC prepare a Special Report on Water and Climate. A consultative meeting on Climate Change and Water held in Geneva in November 2002 concluded that the development of such a report in 2005 or 2006 would have little value, as it would quickly be superseded by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was planned for completion in 2007. Instead, the meeting recommended the preparation of a Technical Paper on Climate Change and Water that would be based primarily on AR4 but would also include material from earlier IPCC publications.

An interdisciplinary writing team was selected by the three IPCC Working Group Bureau with the aim of achieving regional and topical balance, and with multiple relevant disciplines being represented. United Nations (UN) agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and representatives from relevant stakeholder communities, including the private sector, have been involved in the preparation of this Technical paper and the associated review process.

Published by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2008 http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tp-climate-change-water.htm

Financial management of disaster risk PREDECAN / Andean Community of Nations

This publication was prepared taking into consideration two primary goals: to provide a general overview of retention and disaster risk transfer mechanisms in the Andean subregion, and to propose a number of general and specific recommendations in each country in order to foster financial protection against risks and disasters.

The document is available online at: http://www.comunidadandina.org/predecan/doc/libros/meca_fin.pdf   For further information, please contact Giovanna Nuñez at GNunez@comunidadandina.org

Schools and adult communities: Environmental education and disaster prevention Manual 2

If adapted and contextualized in advance, this material is relevant to national, provincial, and local watersheds, as well as rural areas located in national parks, biosphere reserves, other protected areas and mountain ranges in Cuba.

The content of this manual may be used in learning processes in schools, under the principle of a teaching-learning principle, in order to get students and communities involved in the prevention and solution of environmental problems, and in local disaster prevention.

Let’s prepare and protect ourselves: The environment and disasters Manual 3

This is a pilot program for training coordinators, teachers and community leaders in environmental education and disasters. The program covers the Cuyaguateje watershed, and the Guanahacabibes and Viñales national parks in Cuba. The manual includes a number of activities, exercises, homework, and practical assignments on education, environmental protection and disaster prevention in schools, households and communities.

Educational and methodological integration of environmental education and disaster prevention into school curricular projects for adult communities

The authors of this document believe that environmental education is a learning process, an educational focus, dimension and perspective, and an alternative to education and pedagogy, which must be developed in schools but strengthened among households and communities, as a social duty for training children, adolescents and youth. This also represents a political, economic and social goal.

For further information, please contact:
Dr. C. Orestes Valdés: educamb@dct.rimed.cu
Science and Technology Office
Ministry of Education, Havana, Cuba

UNDP’s Products on Crisis Prevention and Recovery

CATALOGUE OF TOOLS IN CENTRAL AMERICA: Disaster preparedness and local risk management”

This new package of publications compiles the variety of tools that demonstrate how the communities are preparing and re-adapting to the turbulent dynamics of their lands, creating mechanisms and instruments related to the Early Warning Systems and small scale mitigation means. These publications, which in fact are guidelines of practices, tools and lessons learned, comprise one principal publication (Part I), the Catalogue itself (Part II) with tools organized by country and 6 Annexes or complementary publications, which summarize in a synthesized manner each of the tools by country.

The package comprises the following volumes:






  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA GUATEMALA
  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA NICARAGUA
  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA HONDURAS
  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA EL SALVADOR
  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA PANAMA
  • Tools and lessons learned in CENTRAL AMERICA COSTA RICA
  •  Video CENTRAL AMERICA: The Isthmus in Risk

Also, as part of the initiative “Tools and lessons learned in Central America” a video “CENTRAL AMERICA: The Isthmus in Risk” was produced, which we invite you to see.

  •  A Knowledge Transfer Tool for the Community of Practice

Another of the products is an interactive CD that compiles the tools systematized in Central America and an interactive DVD, which in its turn, carries the inventory of more than 300 experiences and projects, as well as case studies of 15 experiences developed in Andean Countries, 18 practices related to Early Warning Systems from the Caribbean, 84 tools generated in the municipalities of Andean capitals and 31 tools linked to EWS´s and small-scale mitigation means implemented in Central America.     

This entire compilation of experiences, practices, tools, videos etc., has been developed to be shared and transferred to regional and national entities responsible for the thematic area in the region. It is a material to be used and re-used, updated and adjusted, by all those who constitute our wide Disaster Risk Reduction Community of Practice. It is for this purpose that we present the Knowledge Transfer tool for the Community of Practice.

This work has been developed in the framework of the Project “Tools and lessons learned in Central America” with support of the General Directorate for Humanitarian Aid of European Commission (ECHO) through its Disaster Preparedness Programme (DIPECHO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with technical assistance from the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR).

While we are still in the process of making final adjustments, all these materials are available for reference and your perusal on our Web platform RedDesastres (http://www.reddesastres.org/index.php) through the link NOVEDADES … we hope to see you there.

2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction

The 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction is the first biennial global assessment of disaster risk reduction prepared in the context of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR).   

The focus of this Report is the nexus between disaster risk and poverty, in a context of global climate change.  The Report argues the need for an urgent paradigm shift in disaster risk reduction.  Current progress in implementing the HFA is failing to address the underlying risk drivers and the translation of disaster impacts into poverty outcomes. 

The challenge identified by the Report is to link and focus the policy and governance frameworks for disaster risk reduction, poverty reduction and climate change adaptation in a way that can bring these local and sectoral approaches into the mainstream. This will not only facilitate the achievement of the HFA: it will contribute towards poverty reduction and the achievement of the MDGs.  Importantly, it also provides a vehicle to enable countries to adapt to global climate change.

The 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction is a collaborative effort of the ISDR system. The Report has been prepared and coordinated by UNISDR in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), World Meteorlogical Organization (WMO), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the ProVention Consortium, regional intergovernmental and technical institutions, national governments, civil society networks, academic institutions and many other ISDR system partners.


A compilation of articles about Urban Risk Management in Latin America

This compilation of articles is an interesting, heterogeneous combination of approaches and perspectives around the issue of disaster risk in our cities. It includes practical experiences at the community level and within the public sector, as well as theoretical reflections and conceptual approaches regarding the role of governments, the use and implementation of modeling techniques (both numerical and qualitative), proposals for tool development, and planning experiences, among other things. Since this is not a scientific but an informative publication, it includes the original language, structure, organization and scope of each article (except for minor details for editing purposes).

Through these articles, the reader will have a better idea about the current reality of risk management in a number of cities throughout Latin America, as well as its strengths, weaknesses and gaps. The authors of these articles are real actors from both small and large cities who, at different levels, face specific risk-disaster specific problems. This is why the compilation includes a range of theories, practices, lessons learned and feedback which, one way or another, is a way to “look at the mirror” and be aware of the complexity of disaster risk reduction and the challenge it represents in our cities. With this compilation of articles, the secretariat of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) hopes to contribute to foster a stronger commitment from governments and social actors to the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action through development policies in our cities.


HFA-Pedia is the ISDR system-wide interactive tool for facilitating information exchange and improved reporting.  This online interactive encyclopedia surrounding disaster risk reduction is open to any DRR-related topic of interest and currently includes national pages with useful information for all countries and territories belonging to the Americas region, as well as a large and ever-increasing number of pages and articles surrounding transversal themes and topics of interest to the DRR community.  By simply registering online, new pages can be created or existing ones edited in a user-friendly way.

Virtual journey through a safe hospital

A new PAHO multimedia training program on Hospitals Safe from Disasters

It has been several years since PAHO opted for the use of new information technologies in the production of educational materials and technical information resources. With the material presented here, however, we have both reinforced and made a significant qualitative leap forward in this regard. How so? This multimedia tool makes intensive use of more sophisticated and efficient technologies and combines different resources and uses, thus making it much more versatile and easy to use whilst enhancing its didactic potential. Through both its design and development, videos, graphic animation in two or three dimensions, images, sound, text, graphic presentations and technical publications are all combined to create a virtual environment for learning all there is to know about the safe hospital.

It is arranged in modules that can be used either independently, for understanding specific aspects of the issue, or collectively in order to obtain a complete overview. The technical guide (contents) has been formulated based on the concepts and the factors included in the Hospital Safety Index and which experts have agreed are the main issues that determine the safety of a hospital or health facility.

Its use is flexible. While it can provide support to courses for evaluators, it can also be used by anyone wishing to know about or study the issue of the safe hospital in greater or lesser depth. In the same way, it can be used to promote and disseminate the concept and the strategy of the Safe Hospital, advocating for greater investment and more political and technical attention focused on this issue.

The tool is designed for navigation through these multimedia resources which illustrate the concept of the safe hospital. The “traveller” can adapt the journey to his or her needs, choosing their preferred route, and repeating or skipping subjects as he or she chooses. A complete journey can take almost three hours, but the viewing of the general introductory video will take only 15 minutes and facilitate a quick understanding of all the components.

During the journey, the following modules can be visited:

  • Preparation for the journey
  • What is a safe hospital?
  • Location and main hazards
  • Let’s study the structural components
  • Let’s analyze the non-structural components
  • Let’s analyze the functional components
  • Let’s get to know the Safe
  • Hospital Index Hospital planning in the event of disasters.

The tool also includes a virtual library in which supporting materials can be consulted and downloaded; such as guides, videos, graphic presentations or photographs that complement the study and the analysis of all the themes.

In summary, this “virtual learning environment” was designed so that it is: Instructive and entertaining, since all the multimedia materials guide and facilitate learning and promote particular actions to ensure safe hospitals. Motivating, since interaction with the computer and multimedia help to capture attention, arouse interest and ensure concentration on the most important aspects of a safe hospital. In addition, it is the user him or herself who builds the learning process. Informative, since all these materials include content which provide considerable information on the issue of the safe hospital. In addition, all of the most important technical documents produced by PAHO on this topic are archived in the section titled ‘library’.

Its innovative methodology invokes modern technology, promotes interaction, facilitates various uses and opens up possibilities to experiment. These materials can be used for personal learning, they can be adapted as virtual courses via internet, or they can be used to support classes requiring students’ physical attendance. Furthermore, they can be used for both individual and group activities.

It is also important to highlight that although production and design are more costly than traditional materials, multimedia can ensure cheaper training costs while promoting decentralization and avoiding the need for people to travel in order to attend courses. It is a tool for creating or strengthening capacities, promoting sustainability to train experts at the country level. For more information please contact perezric@pan.ops-oms.org

New manual on communication and information management in disaster situations

PAHO/WHO has published a new manual to help information management and communication specialists who are involved in disaster preparedness and response activities in the health sector. The manual gives recommendations on how to manage information and to communicate with the public in emergency situations. It also addresses the production of situation reports, how to deal with the media, and preparing messages for the public and general educational and informational materials.

The guide is useful for courses and training activities and complements other efforts by PAHO/WHO to develop better communication for risk management. It is the result of extensive consultation, with input from a large number of media and disaster management professionals in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For more information write to perezric@paho.org.

To download a copy of the manual in PDF format, visit: www.paho.org/disasters.