Using GIS for safe hospitals in disasters

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Two departments of El Salvador and two in Guatemala, under the guidance of  the Ministries of Health, have set up a geographic information system (GIS) for hospitals. The system uses GIS to attain information on health service networks, hospital capacity, hospital safety in disaster situations, population centers, major road networks, basic services and infrastructure, among other features.

The tool developed by PAHO/WHO, with the technical support from the Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), will provide useful information for both planning and rapid response to emergencies and disasters.

To carry out geographic referencing, information is being collected from ministries of health as well as directly from health facilities. Technical and scientific institutes in the countries involved in the project are sharing information on health facilities that are exposed to natural hazards as well as hazards posed by human activity. The Hospital Safety Indices that have been applied in particular facilities will be integrated into the information system.

Currently, the system includes information on the following topics:

  • Health facilities that have been identified are represented by points, where each point represents a category of facility (hospital, health post, health center, or other);
  • Topography;
  • Geo-political divisions (municipalities, districts, departments, etc.);
  • Hazards such as landslides, seismicity, and volcanic activity causing mud or debris flows (lahars), and flood zones.

The pilot project is being developed for health facilities in El Salvador (La Libertad and Usulután Departments) and Guatemala (Alta Verapaz and Izabal Departments) and it is hoped that experiences there will be examples for other countries. The system allows for special searches of information about hospitals and other health facilities, and allows for editing and inclusion of photographs and other types of information.

This tool has been developed with open source software (Linux 11.4) which will allow ministries of health to use it without licensing obligations.

The project is part of the European Commission’s seventh DIPECHO (Disaster Preparedness ECHO) Action Plan, with funding from the European Community. It was presented recently to countries in Central America and training will begin for Ministries of Health in Guatemala and El Salvador in November so that they can continue entering data into the system. For more information on the project, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief

525 23rd Street, N.W. - Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
202.974.3399 - Fax 202.775.4578 - disaster@paho.org - www.paho.org/disasters