The first aid team finds an ‘injured’ peer and practice first aid skills during the school drill. Photo credit: Manuth Buth/UNDP Cambodia.

March 08, 2019

Continual improvement key to sustainability in Cambodia’s disaster preparedness school drills program

Continual improvement has been touted as a key component of disaster preparedness in education under an ongoing joint UNDP Cambodia and Save the Children project which trains and facilitates school drills in the storm-prone coastal province of Koh Kong. “We and the community are both happy with the school drills,” said Mr. Sok Vin, Head of Primary School Department (Koh Kong Provincial Office of Education). “We have seen teachers and students change their behavior and attitudes”. 

An additional ten UNDP-funded schools across Koh Kong province have participated in multi-hazard drills following the initial 5 school drills conducted in Sihanoukville province under the Japan-supported ‘Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in Asia and the Pacific’ project. Over 2,500 students have been reached in the first ten drills alone. Many of these students describe telling their friends and family what they learned, suggesting that the actual number impacted by the project may be much higher.

Storms with high winds, lightning and thunder, as well as tidal flooding and storm surges, threaten coastal schools in Koh Kong province in the south of Cambodia on a regular basis. 

As children spend a significant portion of their lives in and around educational facilities, it is important to understand and mitigate the risks that this vulnerable population face. Shifts in programming have seen an increase of child-centered approaches in recent years as children become active, rather than passive, participants in their own learning regarding disaster risk reduction.  

In drills rolled out during the first week of March 2019 in Koh Kong, children played outside their school building when an alarm sounded, followed by the voice of a student on a megaphone announcing an impending storm. Students quickly took action, covering their heads and rushing for cover under school desks while trained students looked for ‘injured’ peers and provided emergency first aid. Once the ‘all clear’ announcement was made, children knew that the disaster was over and they were safe to leave, smiling as they showed off their shirts that proudly state the project’s Sustainable Development Goal alignment – SDG 13: Climate Action. “We are happy with the drills”, one student stated. “I got to be part of the first aid team. We learn how to keep safe in school during disasters”.  

Once the students have completed a drill, an important component of the project takes place – key stakeholders including teachers, principals, community members, police and children reflect on what they experienced and observed, with suggestions on how to improve. Teachers facilitate the same process with their classrooms next door. Appropriateness of safe spaces, use and ownership of equipment such as stretchers and first aid kits and questions about evacuations all allow the wider community to actively engage with and contribute to their own community disaster risk reduction. Such approaches allow reflective practices and identification of actions which increase the effectiveness, and sustainability, of school drills as a disaster risk reduction practice.

Similarly, small community-led mitigation actions such as improving pathways, planting trees and using public buildings are also discussed within the community meetings. The introduction of deliberately identifying these mitigation strategies as the project progressed from phase I to phase II further reflects UNDP’s commitment to sustainable programming for disaster risk reduction as communities understand their ability to invest in keeping the children safe.

For a short insight into what the program looks like, see UNDP’s video found here.

For updates on this project and UNDP Cambodia’s broader work, follow @UNDP Cambodia on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn


Written by: Kelsea Clingeleffer, UNDP Intern, DRR and Early Warning


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