COPING WITH NATURAL DISASTERS: THE ROLE OF LOCAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND THE COMMUNITY
( By A Working Guide (WHO - OMS, 1989) )

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Chapter 5.Knowledge of the risks and the resources

Knowledge of the risks to life and health to which the community is exposed can be acquired in various ways and to different degrees of detail. As part of national plans, local plans can be prepared by the community to deal with emergency situations. These plans can make use of special risk maps (e.g. earthquake, hydrogeological or volcanic zoning). In most cases, however, in the absence of plans, the community can ascertain the risks by periodically enlisting the support of various social groups. Even if this does not result in real plans, it is a valid means of preparing for emergency situations, for during these risk-ascertaining activities the problem is also tackled of what would have to be done and what resources would have to be utilized if the emergency actually arose.


A committee of families, with a local health worker, organizes neighbourhood visits.


They find certain problems of hygiene.


They find solutions.

Knowledge of hazards in the neighbourhood


A local health worker goes into a school. He speaks of recent experience of hurricanes and floods.


The health worker and the children go out to study particular risks. Here, landslides. The teaching staff participate in the visit and the discussion.


A great deal of damage is caused by falling objects and by materials dragged along by the wind. It is essential to get to know and prevent such damage. Here the group studies a big tree with its roots exposed that could easily fall.


Fallen high-voltage cables cause electrocutions, short circuits and fires.


The visit is an opportunity to recall to attention the safety instructions in the case of cyclones and to study the parts of houses that need strengthening.


After the visit the children produce drawings on the risks studied, as their contribution to the community’s risk map.

Knowledge of hazards in the schools

Who carries out the activities?


· the personnel of the public services,
· the police and fire brigade,
· first-aid associations,
· associations, professional people, organized groups in the community,
· the schools.

What risks are envisaged? Each group can consider the risks with which it is most closely concerned, such as:


· the collapse of flimsily built buildings,

· the irruption of water in cases of floods, prolonged and heavy rainfall, tidal waves, cyclones, the failure of dams,

· fires (stocks of inflammable materials, electrical short-circuits),

· contamination of the soil, water and air by toxic products (what products?) which may spread in the event of an accident or disaster,



· explosions (stocks of gas, petrol or explosives),

· landslides (in the case of an earthquake or prolonged rainfall),

· damage from a volcanic eruption (examination of past experience),

· breakdown of communications (telephone lines, lack of electricity),

· isolation of the community because of roads becoming impassable.



Local building experts meet.


They list buildings likely to collapse.


They produce a map of risks to buildings.


They indicate the solutions to be adopted in strengthening buildings.


They show how to protect houses against cyclones and earthquakes.

Knowledge of risks to buildings

The local health personnel can cooperate in ascertaining the risks, particularly by helping the groups mentioned above to recognize certain dangers already present in normal times but which a disaster may make more acute:


· utilization of contaminated water and food,
· presence of insect disease vectors and rodents,
· poor environmental hygiene (disposal of refuse, sewage, etc.).
· absence of latrines,
· lack of hygiene (personal, domestic, in markets),
· harmful eating habits (meals poor in protein),
· other.

These activities to determine the risks and resources are carried out in the following stages:


· the organizing group meets and discusses the risks it wishes to concern itself with,

· visits to the sites exposed to risk and information meetings are arranged,

· the risks noted are discussed and possibly indicated on a map of the area visited (see risk maps in Annex 6),

· the resources available to the community in case of disaster are listed,

· initiatives to reduce the risks envisaged are proposed and efforts are made to put them into effect with the cooperation of other community bodies.


The figures give examples of these activities.

Who coordinates the various activities? The local authority and, where one exists, the community’s emergency committee coordinate the activities and gather and summarize, information on risks and resources. The simplest method is to organize an “Annual Day” on which each group submits the results of the work done, there is a discussion on general preparedness for emergency situations, and the steps to be taken are considered. One or more risk and resource maps can possibly be drawn up (see Annexes 6, 7 and 8). In this framework, the local health personnel describe their preparedness activities (see below).


Knowledge of the risks to life and health to which the community is exposed can be acquired in various ways and to different degrees of detail. As part of national plans, local plans can be prepared by the community to deal with emergency situations. These plans can make use of special risk maps (e.g. earthquake, hydrogeological or volcanic zoning). In most cases, however, in the absence of plans, the community can ascertain the risks by periodically enlisting the support of various social groups. Even if this does not result in real plans, it is a valid means of preparing for emergency situations, for during these risk-ascertaining activities the problem is also tackled of what would have to be done and what resources would have to be utilized if the emergency actually arose.


A committee of families, with a local health worker, organizes neighbourhood visits.


They find certain problems of hygiene.


They find solutions.

Knowledge of hazards in the neighbourhood


A local health worker goes into a school. He speaks of recent experience of hurricanes and floods.


The health worker and the children go out to study particular risks. Here, landslides. The teaching staff participate in the visit and the discussion.


A great deal of damage is caused by falling objects and by materials dragged along by the wind. It is essential to get to know and prevent such damage. Here the group studies a big tree with its roots exposed that could easily fall.


Fallen high-voltage cables cause electrocutions, short circuits and fires.


The visit is an opportunity to recall to attention the safety instructions in the case of cyclones and to study the parts of houses that need strengthening.


After the visit the children produce drawings on the risks studied, as their contribution to the community’s risk map.

Knowledge of hazards in the schools

Who carries out the activities?


· the personnel of the public services,
· the police and fire brigade,
· first-aid associations,
· associations, professional people, organized groups in the community,
· the schools.

What risks are envisaged? Each group can consider the risks with which it is most closely concerned, such as:


· the collapse of flimsily built buildings,

· the irruption of water in cases of floods, prolonged and heavy rainfall, tidal waves, cyclones, the failure of dams,

· fires (stocks of inflammable materials, electrical short-circuits),

· contamination of the soil, water and air by toxic products (what products?) which may spread in the event of an accident or disaster,



· explosions (stocks of gas, petrol or explosives),

· landslides (in the case of an earthquake or prolonged rainfall),

· damage from a volcanic eruption (examination of past experience),

· breakdown of communications (telephone lines, lack of electricity),

· isolation of the community because of roads becoming impassable.



Local building experts meet.


They list buildings likely to collapse.


They produce a map of risks to buildings.


They indicate the solutions to be adopted in strengthening buildings.


They show how to protect houses against cyclones and earthquakes.

Knowledge of risks to buildings

The local health personnel can cooperate in ascertaining the risks, particularly by helping the groups mentioned above to recognize certain dangers already present in normal times but which a disaster may make more acute:


· utilization of contaminated water and food,
· presence of insect disease vectors and rodents,
· poor environmental hygiene (disposal of refuse, sewage, etc.).
· absence of latrines,
· lack of hygiene (personal, domestic, in markets),
· harmful eating habits (meals poor in protein),
· other.

These activities to determine the risks and resources are carried out in the following stages:


· the organizing group meets and discusses the risks it wishes to concern itself with,

· visits to the sites exposed to risk and information meetings are arranged,

· the risks noted are discussed and possibly indicated on a map of the area visited (see risk maps in Annex 6),

· the resources available to the community in case of disaster are listed,

· initiatives to reduce the risks envisaged are proposed and efforts are made to put them into effect with the cooperation of other community bodies.


The figures give examples of these activities.

Who coordinates the various activities? The local authority and, where one exists, the community’s emergency committee coordinate the activities and gather and summarize, information on risks and resources. The simplest method is to organize an “Annual Day” on which each group submits the results of the work done, there is a discussion on general preparedness for emergency situations, and the steps to be taken are considered. One or more risk and resource maps can possibly be drawn up (see Annexes 6, 7 and 8). In this framework, the local health personnel describe their preparedness activities (see below).

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