News and Information for the International Community
Capturing Progress in Disaster Reduction: 100 Issues of the Disasters Newsletter
PAHO/WHO, J. Vizcarra
It was 1979 when PAHO published the first issue of its quarterly newsletter Disaster Preparedness in the Americas (the word “mitigation” was added to the title in 1992). At that time, PAHO had neither email nor a fax machine to keep abreast of disaster preparedness activities in and beyond the Americas. Instead, the Organization relied on a steady stream of memos and cables to learn about meetings, research, publications and other initiatives underway within the relatively small disaster community. The first newsletter was typed (yes, on a typewriter), photocopied and sent by hand to a very limited circle of people who were interested in developing contacts and learning more about this area of growing interest: preparing to face the health effects of disasters.
Today, many things have changed. Not only is the software and hardware used to put together a newsletter much more sophisticated, the number and diversity of channels (some would say the excess of channels) through which we receive news have multiplied at such a rapid pace that it is virtually impossible to keep up with who is doing what in the Americas, let alone the rest of the world.
What has not changed, however, is why and for whom this newsletter is published. The Disasters newsletter has attempted to showcase the initiatives and steps taken by countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (and beyond) to prepare for and respond to the health consequences of disasters. From the earliest issues, it has promoted a horizontal exchange of knowledge and ideas among disaster professionals by citing contact information for each news piece (a much quicker task today, thanks to e-mail, than in 1979!) Today, the print newsletter coexists with an online Internet version, which is available on PAHO’s disaster web site (www.paho.org/disasters). The e-newsletter is available at least three weeks before the print copy reaches your office or home by mail. If you would like to know when the electronic version is online, drop us a note at email@example.com and you will be added to the e-mail distribution list.
DID YOU KNOW ...
• Since 1998, the share of readers from outside North America (Canada, Mexico and the US) has increased by 2%.
• The number of those who subscribe to the electronic newsletter has reached an all-time high of 6,500 or 25% of total subscribers.
• Our Caribbean readership comprises 14% of all of our present subscribers.
• Which country in the Americas (excluding the U.S.) has the largest number of readers of Disasters:
Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas? Mexico, followed by Colombia and Peru.
• Subscribers in Mexico, Central America and South America make up 57% of all our subscribers, a jump from 52% in 1998!
• Our newsletter is published in Spanish (57% of our readership) and English (43%).
• Fifteen percent of our readers describe themselves as academics; 31% are affiliated to the health sector and 7% to civil defense organizations.
Speaking of e-mail distribution lists, you can join the almost 6,500 people, or 25% of our subscriber database, who have sent us their e-mail address and now receive news items between issues of the newsletter. Your e-mail address will remain private, your mailbox will not be overloaded and you can opt at any time to unsubscribe. Send your e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
New multimedia simulation on volcanic eruptions
PAHO and a number of organizations in Colombia and Ecuador have been working to improve health preparedness for volcanic emergencies. Now, multimedia software has been developed to enable health Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) to conduct simulation exercises.
All simulation exercises require a good script and PAHO enlisted the help of vulcanologists to prepare realistic scenarios of simulated events. The next step was to design and develop the software to place students in situations in which they must solve problems or react pragmatically. This new simulation software has advantages over traditional paper-based exercises in that the computer interface, with video images, radio spots, photos, written reports and other documentation, immerses the user in a situation that is as close-to-reality as possible, without being exposed to the actual risks of a volcanic eruption. To conduct the simulation exercise properly, the software must run on nine individual computers that have been connected to a local area network.
As participants progress through the exercise, they are forced to interpret and act on a large volume of information, both qualitative and quantitative. They can then measure the results, negotiate and discuss their decisions. As in real disaster situations, decisions are generally taken in a climate of uncertainty, where there is only a partial understanding of the actions of colleagues and other entities participating in the exercise. During the process, participants test their knowledge of preparedness measures along with communication and negotiation skills.
This tool not only allows users to learn more about the behavior of volcanoes, the characteristics of the threat (lahars, pyro-clastic flows, ash and gases) and the potentially adverse effects on health, but also to appreciate the complexity of the decisions that an EOC must take and the importance of coordination and communication, both internally and between sectors. The exercise promotes the health EOC as a key preparedness and emergency management tool and lets the players “live” the importance of forming and maintaining an updated situation room that provides information and analysis for decision making.
The exercise ends with a joint evaluation by all the participants: evaluators, observers, and the players themselves. Most of the 50 people that have already field tested the software in workshops in Colombia and Ecuador said it was an extremely helpful learning experience that allowed them to evaluate their knowledge and decision-making skills and improve teamwork in stressful situations. Their evaluations of the script, the software, and the methodology will be used to adjust a subsequent version of the simulation, which will be field tested in Central America later this year.
This multimedia simulation exercise is currently available in Spanish only, and was developed in the framework of a DIPECHO project financed by the European Commission Humanitarian Office. For more information, contact Ricardo Perez, email@example.com.