UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction


Safer Communities through Safer Schools and Digital Health

Summarised by Rebekah Yore 

The Safer Communities through Safer Schools and Digital Health talks opened the UCL IRDR 7th Annual Conference. This session was chaired by Dr Carmine Galasso from the UCL department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) and the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (IRDR), and Dr Patty Kostkova of the UCL IRDR. The safer schools section featured Professor Dina D'Ayala (UCL CEGE), Professor Lessandro Garciano (DLSU), Dr Winston Oreta (DLSU) and Dr Christophe Belperron (Save the Children) as speakers. 

Professor D'Ayala opened with an overview of the global imperative to strengthen school infrastructure in countries vulnerable to the destructive forces of natural hazards. She demonstrated how international agreements such as the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Comprehensive School Safety Framework have enshrined the need to work pro-actively in supporting and maintaining effective risk management and resilience-building at all levels, rather than reactively. She showcased her current work through the Global Program for Safer Schools (GPSS), a collaborative project with the World Bank that aims to establish a baseline of requirements for defining school "safety" on a global level. An integral element of the ongoing work is therefore attempting to standardise the classifications used for the varying school structures, and establishing universal definitions, parameters and taxonomies for engineers and communities that can enable to uniform regulation of building risk assessments, building codes and standards, and building design. 

We were then introduced to the Safer Communities through Safer Schools (SCOSSO) project, which is a part of the Philippines Resilience of School Infrastructure to Multi Hazard (PRISMH) collaboration between the UCL EPICentre, De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila and Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. The project's focus on the Philippines means that the safety of school buildings, as critical infrastructure in the face of natural hazards, is of paramount importance given their dual purpose: acting as both educational facilities and emergency evacuation shelters in hazardous conditions. Leading the research in the Philippines, Professor Garciano and Dr Oreta's ongoing work focuses on the creation of a safety assessment tool based on the Evacuation Safety Index (ESI) for public schools across the Philippines. This aims to quantify the safety of each school in terms of both its disaster preparedness and its disaster response capabilities, based on the usability of the rooms within for shelter, and the capacity for continuing with its educational function following a crisis. 

Dr Christophe Belperron ended the first half of the session with an overview of the purpose and role of the Comprehensive School Safety Framework (CSSF), established through the Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience in the Education Sector (GADRRRES). The Framework aims to mainstream Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and encourage a sustained culture of resilience among staff and students. It also encourages a holistic view of child protection in the face of risk, recognising that the safety of environments around schools is as important as the safety of the schools themselves in protecting communities, and that small but more frequent shocks can be just as damaging to vulnerable populations as the large disasters that attract the world's focus. A number of "do-it-yourself" toolkits have been created for school-based self-assessment, and numerous online resources are available to the public. 

The second part of the session focussed on the use of games and digital technology for disseminating health and hygiene education and awareness. Opening the presentations herself, co-chair Dr Patty Kostkova (UCL IRDR) introduced two ongoing digital health projects. The first comprises a game-based learning programme, using crowdsourced data via community participatory surveillance and aims at issuing health advice around the spread and contraction of the Zika virus in Brazil. The second project, MANTRA (Maternal and Newborn Technology for Resilience in rural Areas) also utilises mobile technology for public health interventions, and works to increase maternal and child health resilience before, during and after disasters in Nepal. The project aims to more thoroughly understand and characterise risk, culture and knowledge in largely rural and remote areas, as well as to enhance access to information and communications through local voices, images and local Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs). 

Dr Andreea Molnar (Lancaster University) closed the session with a summary of the "Edu Games 4 All" initiative, which is developing a platform for child-centred educational games and storytelling techniques based around the importance of hygiene and sanitation. Born out of a concern over the rise in antimicrobial resistance, it aims to target schools as centres of education and children as effective agents of change in their communities, to encourage the more widespread adoption of healthy hygiene practices and lessen the global reliance on antibiotics. 

The multidisciplinary panel provided a wide-ranging and fascinating array of approaches to technical and community-based disaster risk management, encompassing expertise from the worlds of engineering, technology, the social sciences, and health.