El Salvador’s tallest volcano, the Ilamatepec volcano, had been dormant since the early 20th century until it erupted on 1 October, causing the evacuation of several thousand people and triggering a red alert in surrounding areas. Government authorities were already in a heightened state of alert from the eruption when Hurricane Stan hit several days later and caused devastating mudslides. These disasters prompted government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, to organize several disaster communication workshops with the media, social communicators and public institutions. PAHO/WHO supported these efforts.
Both journalists and social communicators recognize they have an important role to play in getting reliable information to an at-risk public. Journalists pointed to the importance of receiving the right type of information, data and statistics in a timely manner and ensuring that the information is confirmed and attributed to reliable sources. They also committed to improving their knowledge about natural risks and strengthening relationships with national disaster agencies.
Social communicators in public institutions pledged to develop strategies to deal with emergency situations, such as developing a data bank of health disaster information. To ensure follow up, a social communication plan was prepared to support the response and recovery phase of the mudslides and the alert phase of the Ilamatepec volcano, with a role for all three groups: the mass media, health disaster response teams and at-risk communities. The plan should improve the ability of health institutions in El Salvador to communicate effectively about disasters. One of the expected long-term benefits of these efforts is that both the health sector and communities will be better able to identify risks and vulnerabilities and take appropriate measures to deal with the health effects of disasters.