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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.Information on disasters

Information is the basis for preparing the community and the local health personnel for emergency situations. Consideration must be given to:


selecting the types of information content that should be disseminated to attain the degree of preparedness wished for,

the sources of the information,

the best means of reaching the intended recipients, capturing their attention and obtaining their participation.



Figure

Five essential features can be envisaged to which it is possible to relate the main types of information that will be useful locally if a disaster occurs:


Knowledge of the envisaged danger. It is a matter of supplying, in the simplest and clearest manner possible, information on the causes and dynamics of the type of disaster that may occur in the area.

Forecasting the disaster and giving warning of it. Where possible, indications must be given of the means of forecasting the moment at which disaster may strike and of the warning systems used.

Prevention and alleviation of the consequences. The means must be indicated by which the risks to survival and health in the envisaged disaster can be prevented or alleviated.

The emergency. The acts and behaviour that are essential for saving lives and reducing risks when the envisaged disaster strikes must be indicated.1




1 See, for example, Annex 4.


The actions to be taken in the hours that follow the disaster. Indications must be given of the types of behaviour best adapted to the situation that will arise after the envisaged disaster takes place and the points of reference that must be used in organizing relief, survival and the management of the various problems.

Two types of information source must be envisaged:


A. Documentary sources. Among these must be classified:



First and foremost the official documents prepared by the national, regional or local authorities - generally laws on civil protection, circulars, emergency plans, safety regulations to cover different types of risk (fire, electricity, gas, built-up areas, land occupancy, communities, etc.). These documents can be obtained from the authorities and distributed.

Then come books, journals and other publications dealing with the various aspects of prevention and action in the event of disasters. A list is given in Annex 12. It is valuable for the local health personnel, depending on the local risks and previous initiatives, to have access to publications which will help them tackle the subject in the most up-to-date and rigorously correct way.

Finally, films and audiovisual material which can be useful not only in the internal task of ensuring the preparedness of the local health personnel but also for information and discussion with the various members of the community. It will thus be possible to use commercial films or State and private television programmes dealing with disasters.



B. Direct sources. Those available on the spot include:



Eye-witness accounts, photographs, recordings and any other contributions coming directly from persons who have lived through a disaster. Analysis and discussion of first-hand experience of both disaster victims and relief workers (and, of course, the local health personnel) are indispensable.

Contributions from all those who can help define the content of the information available: local authorities, local health workers, teachers of geography, the natural sciences, physics, chemistry and other subjects in the schools, public utility personnel (electricity, gas, water, town and country planning, transport, communications, etc.) and safety personnel. Where they are available, use should be made of contributions from experts and specialists in geology, economics, sociology, town planning and architecture as well as, naturally, specialists in various branches of public health and in the subjects most directly connected with disasters, such as vulcanologists, meteorologists and seismologists, and experts from bodies and associations that intervene in the case of disasters.


Every culture has its preferred methods for circulating information. Some of the methods that can be used are listed in Table I.

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