Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project
Implemented by the Organization of American States
Unit of Sustainable Development and Environment
for the USAID Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Caribbean Regional Program


Building for Safety in Hazardous Areas

by Jinx Parker

Note: This information was originally produced in 1982 and is from a brochure prepared for the USAID Office of Housing & Urban Development, to accompany its "Building for Safety" video.

The goal of comprehensive pre-disaster planning is to reduce the loss of life and property in the event of a natural disaster through integrated economic, social and physical planning. Housing improvement and modification programs can be a part of this process to minimize the impact of natural disasters on vulnerable human settlements. Stronger housing will provide a safer refuge for its occupants, and will thereby lead to savings in building materials and financial resources for both its owners and the government.

Developing the Framework

The institutional framework required for a disaster mitigation program begins with the designation of a "lead agency" or ministry to coordinate various activities and delegate responsibilities for them. The activities include hazards mapping, site planning, housing vulnerability analysis, socioeconomic studies, training aid development, building code revision, etc. Resource lists of available financial programs and technical assistance are compiled. Specific objectives of the disaster mitigation program are established and benchmarks for their attainment are set.

Gathering the Information

Hazard mapping and vulnerability assessment should be undertaken first to determine the types of disasters possible and their frequency and destructive force. This information can be combined with data on current demographic trends and land use patterns to designate high, medium and low risk areas. Using damage distribution studies from past disasters, the vulnerability of existing and planned settlements can then be determined. This information provides a base for developing land use guidelines for both new and existing settlements.

Vulnerability assessment of the various existing housing styles is conducted in order to determine which designs fail in a disaster and why. Methods to make houses more disaster-resistant are then determined. Some disaster-resistant techniques and methods will need to be developed for a specific region due to unique housing styles and construction skills. However, much information on protecting a home from earthquakes or high winds is already available locally, and can be easily adapted to new or different styles and materials.

Designing a Training Program

A training curriculum is essential in order to teach building techniques and upgrade construction skills for all builders, including the informal sector and self-help labor. Equally important is distributing training aids and educational materials.

Three different types of training are often necessary:

The first level of training is for builders, architects, masons, carpenters, etc., who will be doing much of the actual construction in some areas. Trainers can be selected from this group who in turn train larger groups of builders or homeowners. These trainers are responsible for classroom instruction and practical demonstration. They can also supervise the construction and modification of houses within the community as part of the training.

In areas where much of the building is done by homeowners or occupants, it is important to direct a training program to them that is simple and easy to understand. While builders already have experience and understanding of construction methods and detailing, homeowners often need more background information and training in basic techniques.

A third type of training can consist of disseminating information to the general public. Promotional material can be used effectively at this stage. These materials must create a demand for further and more detailed information and a desire to improve the ability of housing to withstand a disaster. The community must feel the need for increased safety before it will be receptive to a housing improvement program.

The training aids used for classroom instruction can be in many forms: posters, flip charts, booklets, audio-visual materials, etc. Their use is greatly enhanced by having a scale model or sample building components to illustrate the principles. Where possible, actual building experience should be integrated into the training program.

Educational materials are most effective when accompanied by instruction, or other public explanation of their content and meaning, in a comprehensive training program. Training material may be used for teaching a select group the techniques in order to prepare them to teach others. Other material can be used for a general audience. lt is important that these materials be planned not only for the particular audience but also for the teaching capacities of the instructors.

Providing Support

An integrated program combines housing education with the provision of ongoing technical assistance and promotion. There are a range of methods for providing financial assistance to low income families not otherwise eligible for home improvement of construction loans. Cooperative building groups, material subsidies and community work programs are among the alternatives that may be used to encourage community participation in the program, and to provide assistance to those who ordinarily could not afford it. Building materials and components advocated in a housing improvement program should be those available locally. The most vital part of a program of this type is local participation. The people must know what the new construction techniques are, believe that their use will make their homes safer, and be afforded the resources to build or modify their own homes or hire a builder who appreciates the need to construct according to these methods.

Monitoring the Program

The program should be monitored throughout in order to judge the effectiveness of the instructors and training aids, and to modify and improve the program as necessary. A successful housing improvement and modification program results in continued use of the disaster-resistant construction techniques after the program ends. Program planners must assess the long-term changes in the normal housing process to determine whether the information is being put into practice in the community. In monitoring the program, the more knowledge program planners have about the traditional building process, the more likely they will be to see its strengths, as well as its shortcomings, and thereby continually improve its impact in making housing safer.

If the lead agency ensures that all components of the housing sector are involved, and if support is given in the areas of policy development, financial assistance, promotion, training and technical assistance, vulnerability reduction activities can become part of the normal building practice and countless lives can be saved.

CDMP home page: Project Contacts Page Last Updated: 20 April 2001