Communication with Hazard Maps in Central America: A multidisciplinary science-media-community network (HazMap_CA)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences


Countries along the Pacific coast of Central America are exposed to high environmental risk from earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunamis, meteorological hazards and landslides. Over the past two decades, disasters in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua alone have caused over US$9 billion in damage and affected more than 13.5 million people. Their exposure to these environmental hazards and their vulnerability to being adversely affected by them are exacerbated as a result of both the complex socio-political setting and approaches used in those countries for economic development.

Information about hazards and disasters is very commonly disseminated through maps. Hazard maps that are useful, usable and used have the potential to prevent disasters and build societal resilience. Although maps represent the important outward face of hazard research, they are cartographic representations of inherently complex information, with large associated uncertainties. Further, the effective understanding, perception, experience and usage of maps calls for multidisciplinary engagement. This proposal will bring together and form, for the first time, a network of researchers and practitioners to understand how hazard maps can be used more effectively to communicate hazard information with decision makers, emergency managers, NGOs, and the public before, during and after times of crisis.

The challenges that need to be addressed in doing this demand input from diverse groups, including academic researchers and practitioners and stakeholder groups. Further, while knowledge informed by Western scientific approaches has an extremely important role to play in hazard and disaster management, its utility remains limited if it is not brought into a meaningful dialogue with alternative approaches and understandings. Our intention is therefore to create a network that brings together expertise from natural sciences, cartography, visual geographies, landscape perception, media and communication studies and Central American development studies to facilitate engagement between disciplines that would not normally interact. In combination these can produce a more detailed and multifaceted understanding of how maps are used to convey hazards associated with the landscape. The network will involve bringing together existing, yet separate, working groups who are actively engaged in initiatives to address development and disaster preparedness in Central America. This will be facilitated through two workshops, one in the UK and one in Central America.

Our central aim is to address developmental issues in the region by strengthening existing emergency management systems and creating useful modes of hazard communication that empower communities, enhance the effectiveness of communication and increase resilience.

Planned Impact

This project proposes foundation-building activities, and as such direct impact through these activities will be largely focused on activities and engagements that take place at the main workshop in Guatemala in Spring 2017. We identified four principal socio-economic beneficiary groups that could benefit from this work:

1. Hazard practitioners: Individuals at government agencies in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua that are responsible for undertaking volcano monitoring and hazard assessments.

2. Decision makers/Civil Protection: that utilize hazard assessments and information on the state of unrest of a particular volcano to make hazard management decisions for short term hazard mitigation as well as long term planning.

3. Academics in our partner countries from any of the main disciplinary areas covered by this network.

4. NGOs and Charities: Any non-profit, voluntary citizens group which is organized on a local, national or international level in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua that take responsibility for administering aid and/or improving wellbeing.

5. General public: People living in hazardous areas are often aware of hazards in the landscape, and may have prior experience of them will be benefited by being able to make decisions about their own livelihood.

In particular we wish to highlight our partnership with the Charity MapAction. MapAction is a humanitarian mapping charity based in the UK that works through specialist volunteers. Its aim is to save lives and minimize suffering by making the response to humanitarian emergencies as efficient and effective as possible. When a disaster strikes, MapAction deploys volunteer mapping professionals to the scene to help inform and coordinate response activities and get aid to where it is needed most. In their letter of support MapAction outline 5 separate ways in which the proposal is directly relevant and will impact the work that they undertake.

These groups will all be represented at the Guatemala workshop. Therefore the methods and activities for engagement will be directly through the workshop activities.

Broader Impacts and impacts extending beyond the workshop

Policy makers: Through facilitating major improvements to the development of effective hazard maps, this project offers pathways to reducing risk. As well as addressing NERCs increasing resilience to natural hazard impact area, this research follows the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction guidelines for natural hazards and risk management by addressing hazard phenomena with the highest impact on lives, and potentially livelihoods, and property assets. We will engage directly with UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory group. The proposed project will address all three of the UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory Group recommendations to help strengthen Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and practices: (i) share knowledge for action; (ii) use a multidisciplinary approach to research; and (iii) build systems resilience through local, national, regional and international partnerships.


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Title The performance of 'Enlighten' written by Catherine Wilson and Eliza Calder in June 2017. 
Description Involvement with Experimental Words: A High-energy Collision of Science and Spoken Word. This youtube video shows the performance of 'Enlighten' a poem written by Catherine Wilson and Eliza Calder in June 2017. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact Conveying to general public the human side of living with a volcano. 
Description The main outcome of the work was that we formed, an engaged network involving researchers, high-level governance, civil society organisations, and community groups and have mapped out a path for further research. Other Outcomes:
Two interdisciplinary workshops took place in Edinburgh and Guatemala, each with around 35 participants.
Our network has a comprehensive and bilingual, website:
Three literature reviews were produced which cover the topics of GIS aspects of hazard maps, non-volcanic hazard maps and studies on hazard perception in landscape.
A substantial network of practitioners and researchers across Central America has been established and is still growing.
An active Facebook group was created and currently has 68 members.
The project was presented at least four international conferences (EGU Vienna, April 2017; IAVCEI Portland Jul 2017; UNISDR Cancun; and at the Central America Geological Congress, in San Salvador).
An official letter of recommendations and suggested areas for further research has been developed by, and received from, Wilson Galo, Director, Concertación Regional para la Gestión de Riesgos.
Some of the outcomes we are most proud of are the exciting extra projects and collaborations which have happened as a result of this project which were not originally anticipated:
1. Involvement with Experimental Words: A High-energy Collision of Science and Spoken Word. This youtube video shows the performance of 'Enlighten' written by Catherine Wilson and Eliza Calder in June 2017.
2. A spin-off research project based in Ecuador- Luke Bowman (PI) Bowman, L. (PI). 2017. Improving the disconnect between natural hazard knowledge and risk perceptions at Cayambe Volcano, Ecuador. Yachay Tech University, Ecuador, Internal Award ($18k USD) Calder, E.S. (Project Partner)
3. A Taster Film - A short film that shows the extreme vulnerability of communities in close proximity to Fuego volcano in Guatemala. Under commission by Mischa Prince, Xocomil Productions, Guatemala.
4. Involvement with GCRF Hub application - pre-proposal stage (PI McClosky).
5. Inspired a dedicated session at 2017 Geological Congress of Central America, held in El Salvador.
6. An MSc Project - This was a feasibility study of how you could make a regional-scale Volcanic hazard map by Jonathan Paul Collin.
7. A cross GCRF additional award: Relative risk infohackit event in Nottingham. This event was as a result of extra funding and involved five GCRF projects. A Storify of the day was compiled.
8. Collaboration with Dr Matt Watson (UoB), creating new high-resolution DEM of Fuego Volcano, Guatemala.
9. Securing a NERC PhD studentship, to research methods for combining community participatory maps with science-based hazard maps.
Exploitation Route We have prepared the ideas and partnerships for developing a longer-term, challenge-driven research project on resilience in Central America to Natural Hazards
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Security and Diplomacy

Description Our award was network-building through the organisation of two workshops. The workshops involved diverse players including researchers, division-makers, civil society groups, and charity organisations. After the workshops, we have found that: - In country, diverse groups of people are now interacting that did not interact and work with each other before. - There is a greater awareness in country that the problems faced need interdisciplinary solutions. - There is an Increased understanding of the role and importance of local knowledge in the science of disaster risk management.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

Description NERC PhD Studentships
Amount £70,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2018 
End 12/2021
Description NERC-AHRC-ESRC GCRF top-up award for cross-project initiatives
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 10/2017
Description University of Edinburgh - Global Impact Accelerator Account: "Fuego Volcano Eruption: Understanding and communicating risk - Using film as a visual methodology"
Amount £59,820 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2018 
End 03/2019
Description HazMap Network Building 
Organisation National Institute for Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology of Guatemala
Country Guatemala 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution This award was to form a new network through the organisation of two workshops, one in Edinburgh, one in Guatemala. Invitees to the two workshops were project investigators, project partners and collaborators, as well as individuals and new groups we were reaching out to.
Collaborator Contribution Most of the participants at the workshop contributed talks and everybody contributed to the discussion and break-out groups. In particular the new partners were important for co-designing the next phase of the work.
Impact Multi-disciplinary outcomes in geoscience, engineering, social science, human geography, and architecture.
Start Year 2017
Description Experimental Words: A High-energy Collision of Science and Spoken Word. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Involvement with Experimental Words: A High-energy Collision of Science and Spoken Word. A poet and scientist collaborate to write a poem about volcanic hazards in Guatemala. This youtube video shows the performance of 'Enlighten' written by Catherine Wilson and Eliza Calder in June 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017