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Disaster Management Specialist Don Schramm served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela and then as program director in Chile
Disaster Management Specialist Don Schramm served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela and then as program director in Chile
Disaster Management by Debra Shore
From volcanoes and earthquakes to war and civil strife, UW-Madison experts have empowered citizens around the world to prepare for the worst.
When the Nevada del Ruiz volcano erupted in November 1985, no one in the small village of Armero, Colombia, which lay seventy-five kilometers away, was prepared.
Though the volcano had erupted to devastating effect twice before — in 1595, shortly after the arrival of Spanish colonists, and in 1845, killing thousands — forgetful peasants and others had moved back into the fertile valley near the volcano, quite literally on top of material deposited by the previous eruptions. And although scientists had been studying the volcano and a preliminary hazard-zone map illustrating Armero’s vulnerability to mud flows had been completed a month earlier, the village would not be spared.
Instead, on the night of November 13, 1985, a violent eruption spewed enormous streams of hot ash and rocks across the volcano’s snow-covered flanks. Avalanches of hot volcanic debris and fast-moving, turbulent clouds of gas and ash caused the snow and ice to melt rapidly, and created large volumes of water that swept down canyons leading away from the volcano’s summit. Torrents of debris known as lahars poured down the mountainside, swelling to as much as forty meters thick and traveling at velocities as fast as fifty kilometers an hour. Within two-and- a-half hours, the debris flow reached Armero, and in a few short minutes twenty-three thousand townspeople were dead and most of the village had been swept away or buried by mud and boulders.
Given that scientists knew that Armero was at risk — after all, the village lay directly in the path of prior debris flows — how did such a disaster happen? Investigations following the event revealed that it had taken nearly a year to complete a map of hazards after the first signs of volcanic unrest had been seen. The map was available for distribution only days before the eruption. In addition, investigators found an inadequate monitoring system at the volcano, and ineffective procedures for communicating information and making decisions during the emergency. They concluded that, in hindsight, the disaster at Armero could have been prevented.
Don Schramm MS’81, for one, hates hindsight. As director of the Disaster Management Center at UW-Madison, he has devoted much of the last fifteen years to helping others prepare for, respond to, and protect against natural disasters. "We’re not going to stop natural phenomena from occurring," he says, quite simply. "But we can mitigate the impact so that they don’t become disasters."
Schramm and the Disaster Management Center (UW-DMC) have helped revolutionize the way we think about disasters. The "old" frame of reference, according to Schramm, was to wait for disasters to occur, and then throw money and supplies at them in response.
An entire architecture of relief agencies evolved to respond to large-scale natural and human-caused disasters (such as masses of people displaced from their homes by war and civil strife). Think of the Red Cross routinely sending supplies wherever disasters occurred. Countries, government officials, and others learned to seek help from these agencies whenever floods or drought, hurricanes or earthquakes, besieged their lands.
But Schramm and a handful of others who had been watching and working in disaster relief began to recognize that pouring money and supplies into a devastated area often caused more problems than it solved.
"If you give somebody a tent, then they ask for other goodies," said disaster relief expert Frederick Cuny, who some years ago helped UW-Madison expand its expertise in this area. "But if you give them a hammer and nails, they build something." Cuny had traveled the world seeking to help local communities recover from natural disasters and civil strife, and he saw how the influx of free supplies from outside relief agencies often disrupted local economies and encouraged dependency. Cuny became a missionary for an old idea with a new application — self-help in disaster management — and eventually published a seminal text, Disasters and Development. "After all," says Don Schramm, "a hazard doesn’t become a disaster until the local capacity to deal with it is overcome."
It is precisely this emphasis on local resources that marks the "new" frame of reference in disaster management and UW-Madison’s approach to training.
Don Schramm did not begin his career with disasters in mind. Trained as an architect, interested in passive solar design, he had served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela and then as program director in Chile. In each country, he experienced an earthquake. "In Venezuela, I was living in a metal shack in a barrio," he recalls, "and the quake sounded like a train coming across the tin roofs."
Schramm moved to Madison in the early 1970s and, pursuing his interest in solar design, began teaching a course in energy auditing in the Department of Engineering Professional Development in 1977. He earned a master’s in landscape architecture from the university in 1980. While teaching a workshop in passive solar design at the Capitol, Schramm ran into Paul Thompson, another architect and former Peace Corps volunteer whom he’d first met in Chile years before. Thompson, who moved to Madison in 1977, had spent the prior year on a fellowship researching housing built after disasters in Latin America. Thompson had been working with noted disaster and refugee expert Fred Cuny and his company, Intertect, in Dallas. (Sadly, Cuny disappeared while on a humanitarian mission to Chechnya in 1995 and is presumed dead.)
"Fred was looking for a university that could be a home to a program in training for disaster management," Thompson recalls. Schramm, meanwhile, knew of the UW’s long-standing commitment to extension education and professional development (EPD has been a leader in that area since 1949). Together Schramm, Thompson, and Cuny solicited a grant from the Office of United States Foreign Disaster Assistance, an arm of the Agency for International Development. They convened a meeting in Madison of twenty or so international experts in the field of disaster management, who then began laying the foundation for what became the new Disaster Management Center. Its mandate: to develop courses, workshops and training modules to help local officials from public and private agencies plan for and respond to emergencies.
The UW-DMC now offers a range of workshops and courses, some in Madison, some at sites around the world, some through the mail, some via the Internet. These include everything from an introduction to the principles of disaster management to an overview of risk factors for communicable diseases following disasters to studies on cyclone mitigation and refugee protection (to sample UW-DMC courses or begin study yourself, point your browser to http://dmc.engr.wisc.edu),
Schramm points proudly to the example of a physician in Turkey who translated the courses into Turkish and is using them to teach local health officials about emergency management. "It’s the Wisconsin idea written across the world," Schramm says of the center’s focus on distance education.
Marco Antonio Meneses of Medellin, Colombia, for instance, is one of many students who have studied disaster management through the center without ever having set foot in Madison.
"About ten years ago, I was working in refugee camps in Central America," Meneses recounted in a center publication, "and I saw an article about distance education classes in a journal." Because he was working in isolated environments for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he could not attend university classes and welcomed the opportunity for independent study. " I mailed in all my assignments through my employer’s diplomatic pouch," Meneses writes, "which was much quicker than regular mail. It was very difficult because we had no electricity, so I often studied by candlelight. I organized my time so that always after work I would study for at least one or two hours." But what was most difficult for Meneses was taking the exams. He had to travel to a city, usually the capital, to find a library, church, university, or U.S. embassy where a proctor would give him the exams, which were all closed book. "You might not think that that’s any big deal," he adds, "but when I was working in the Sudan, Khartoum was eighteen hours away, through the desert."
According to center director Schramm, Meneses has continued his studies toward a Diploma in Disaster Management. "He was severely injured in Somalia," Schramm says, "but we know he is still studying."
In 1990, some officials at the United Nations Development Programme realized their own staff needed to re-think their efforts in designing training programs. Could they combine development projects around the world with reducing the threat of disasters? They turned to the UW-DMC to design a training program for their own managers and staff — an effort that has resulted in seventy workshops in fifty countries with several thousand participants. Alessandro Loretti, an official with the World Health Organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, called the training program "one of the best things the UN Development Programme has ever done."
"Our objective is to enable communities to be self-supporting in the face of disaster, to mitigate and to take care of their own needs when something happens," says Paul Thompson, whose company InterWorks provides content development for many of the self-study courses for the UW-DMC.
Remarkably for its reach and influence, the UW-DMC is a decidedly low-tech, low-cost operation. Schramm devotes only half his time to the center; he still teaches a range of courses in engineering professional development. He receives administrative support from UW-Extension and, in the practical tradition of EPD, consultants such as Thompson assist with course content.
Schramm heads for Rwanda in June to conduct a training program for local organizations and government officials. "To me, helping to build that local capacity is the biggest contribution we can make," Schramm says, "not dumping in money and volunteers after the fact. That’s why we’re helping people understand the impact of hazards on local government," he continues. "It’s slow work. It’s not flashy."
Slow, perhaps, but not without significance — rather like the motion of tectonic plates. "The UW-DMC is trying to show how people can be effective with some of the most catastrophic and vexing problems that we face," says Ray Peña, population protection planner for the Dane County Department of Emergency Management. "What could be better and more important work than that?"
--from the May/June 1997 issue of On Wisconsin magazine
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|By edmore ntini (rba-cache2-vif0.saix.net - 18.104.22.168) on Thursday, August 02, 2007 - 4:35 am: Edit Post|
i would like to study postgraduate courses in Disaster management with any college you may recommend. I am a RSA citizen and hold MA in Development studies qualification. Please provide me with more information, specifically the courses/modules and costs per unit and whole program.