Wind Hazard Maps Aid in Siting of Hospitals

New state-of-the-art wind hazard maps for Caribbean islands and nearby coastal areas of Central and South America are critical aids when designing where to locate a new health facility or rebuild a damaged one. These maps can be useful in Haiti, where many hospitals will have to be built or retroffited after the earthquake of January 2010.

PAHO/WHO, together with Applied Research Associates, has developed the new Caribbean Basin wind hazard maps, which use the most up-to-date meteorological records and methods and are intended to replace older maps currently in use for structural design and risk assessment. They are an important aid for engineers, developers, and others whose work requires knowledge of wind hazards.

More about how and why the Caribbean Wind Hazard Maps were created:

Read an article from the 2008 Newsletter Disasters: Preparedness and Mitigation in the Americas

Wind Hazard Maps: Valuable Instruments
for the Design and Construction of Safer Facilities

There is an underlying need for information on the hazard of winds, based on meteorological records and methodologies recognized by the scientific community. Precisely to meet this need, PAHO/WHO, together with Applied Research Associates, a U.S. institute, and experts from the Caribbean, created new wind hazard maps, with information on this hazard in the Caribbean islands, the Caribbean coasts of Central America and South America and the Yucatán Peninsula, a wider area than that covered in existing maps.

“Every day engineers in the Caribbean design projects that must be wind-resistant. …Clients wish to specify the levels of safety of their facilities, insurance brokers wish to know the risks they are taking on and financial institutions wish to include criteria regarding wind in their schemes”. Many of these decisions depend on the quality of information available regarding hazards, stated Tony Gibbs, regional coordinator of the project that created the new wind hazard maps.

The maps, updated with information collected over the last 20 years and using the most advanced meteorological methods, will replace those used since 1985 in the structural design of buildings and risk assessment.

Harmonization of norms

The new wind hazard maps yield information at a time when many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are preparing to draw up new construction norms and this information can be included in codes and regulations for the design of health facilities.

Currently, a Caribbean Development Bank project (carried out by the Regional Caribbean Organization for Standards and Quality) is putting forth new regional standards; which will replace the construction code currently in force. The wind hazard maps complement this project, since they take into account international norms and provide information on the behavior of winds, an aspect that had not been previously included.


Studies used to create the wind hazard maps were based on historical records of storms and hurricanes that took place from the mid-19th century; nevertheless, greater emphasis was placed on the period between 1970 and 2007. “Recent history is more reliable, as a result of which more emphasis was placed on this in the study. Even so, this information is insufficient to carry out statistical analyses and appropriate forecasts”, explains Gibbs. The study showed that there have not been significant changes in the cycles of cyclonic activity in the North Atlantic.

But the results are tremendously useful. With these, countries can adopt more effective procedures for monitoring standards in the design of health facilities with the aim of making them more resistant to winds and hurricanes. In addition, the information can be used to carry out vulnerability analysis of existing buildings or to take corrective actions. To date, the health sector had depended on the opinion of its advisors (engineers and architects) and the use of technical standards.

Because the maps are still relatively new (February 2008) and many consultants are still not familiar with them, work has begun to promote their use. The results of the studies used to prepare the maps were presented in international and regional meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Saint Lucia, the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Sint Maarten. Courses, seminars, conferences and dissemination through internet are some of the channels to be used in the process of spreading information on these manuals. Responsibility for the promotion and use of the information must be shared by all interest groups (health sector managers, donors, financial entities, engineers, architects, the insurance industry).

PAHO/WHO has promoted the use of ‘check consultants’ with technical knowledge to assess design and quality at different stages of building projects and they will ensure that information from the wind hazard maps is used appropriately in the construction of new health facilities.

The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance of the United States Agency for International Development (OFDA/USAID) financed this project.