Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico

by IsraAID
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico
Emergency Earthquake Response in Mexico

IsraAID has had a team in Mexico since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near Puebla in September 2017, just two weeks after the previous lethal earthquake in the area. The crisis caused hundreds of fatalities, and severe damage to multiple buildings and infrastructure including access to water, electricity and roads. Just days after the second earthquake hit, IsraAID sent a team for initial emergency response in the community. Since then, IsraAID Mexico has served tens of thousands of individuals through immediate response, and in long-term recovery and development programming. 

Due to its geographic location, Mexico is at a high risk of more disasters in the future. It has therefore been vital that IsraAID's work is not only in recovery and response to the most recent earthquakes, but also in increasing resilience in the case of future disasters. IsraAID has worked in hundreds of schools around the country to prepare the staff for future emergencies, as well as working with community leaders and parents to similarly be prepared in the home.

More specifically, IsraAID has developed a Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) program which focused on providing training and socio-technical support to 20 public schools (kindergarten, elementary and high schools) in Morelos state. The DRR program integrates elements of mental health and psychosocial support; recommends preventative measures before, during and after an emergency situation; and provides structure to support the creation and education of a school safety plan. 

Due to the recent COVID-19 crisis and many schools closed, IsraAID Mexico's work has changed, but we are still able to support school communities through our Health and Hygiene program. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Secretariat of Comprehensive Risk Management & Civil Protection, IsraAID has developed a four-session workshop, as well as a guide, with practical steps on how to ensure a safe and healthy return to schools - once they are reopened.

Even when the schools do reopen, there may still be a risk of infection from the virus, so the program teaches the educational staff how to monitor water and hygiene practices in the school setting. There is a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 which causes confusion and can actually prevent people from taking the appropriate hygiene measures, so also included in the training is information about the virus to ensure that the education staff fully understands what the virus really means for them and their students. In our first live online workshop, we reached 91 people among school staff, supervisors and educational authorities. The aim is to reach all high schools in Mexico City. As we are taking a holistic approach, IsraAID is also providing classroom hygiene kits and school sanitation products. The online sessions are joined by local staff in Mexico, as well as our WASH coordinator in IsraAID's HQ in Israel.

Thank you for supporting our work in Mexico, especially during this especially challenging time.   

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IsraAID first arrived in Mexico in the summer of 2017, after an earthquake struck the country causing widespread damage, in the Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos, claiming the lives of close to 400 people, and injuring thousands. With families and communities evacuated from their homes and staying in temporary shelters, Protection of vulnerable populations is of high concern. The associated stress and departure from routine can have severe, long-term affects on mental health, further exacerbated by the breakdown of community support systems. Without intact infrastructure, safe water access and sanitation management poses a danger, as the potential for a secondary crisis increases significantly.

IsraAID hit the ground and launched an emergency response mission, ensuring that affected communities had the necessary relief items, psychosocial support, and access to safe water to begin to rebuild. As the area began to return to normalcy, IsraAID's teams began to transition their programs toward long-term needs, focusing on Disaster Risk Reduction. Building emergency response mechanisms is a key part of building back better, ensuring that communities have the resources and the knowledge base to create a foundation for what happens and how to respond next time a crisis hits.

Throughout 2019, IsraAID continued to work toward this goal. Throughout the program, IsraAID implemented a school-based Disaster Risk Reducation program in 100% of the secondary schools across the state of Morelos, where students, teachers, staff members, and parents were all involved in creating disaster response plans for their communities.

Overall, in 2019, IsraAID:

  • Worked in partnership with 325 schools, ensuring that they are prepared for the next emergency
  • Trained 717 facilitators, who can continue to implement these processes in their schools and communities
  • Included more than 3,000 parents and family members in emergency preparedness programs
  • Reached more than 28,000 children and teenagers through each school
  • Distributed 513 guidebooks to help support schools and communities through the technical and psychosocial aspects of emergency preparedness planning
  • Trained 51 staff members from 28 different Municipal Civil Protection bodies to include local authorities in the process

Thank you to all who participated in this impactful program, and to you, our supporters, who make all of this possible!

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IsraAID arrived in Mexio shortly after 19th September 2017, when a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near Puebla. The earthquake claimed the lives of over 200 people, and caused drastic devastation to buildings and other key infrastructure in the area. IsraAID remains on the ground, where Disaster Risk Reduction Specialists are implementing a state-wide Emergency Preparedness curriculum in partnership with the Ministry of Education. This blog was written by Amit Gerstein, a IsraAID Humanitarian Fellow, and a senior at George Washington University studying International Affairs.

They knew it was funny. The kids lined up on the pavement yard in two rows and got ready for the music to start, giggling in preteen self-consciousness as we watched from the side. A trumpet began the song, followed by a chorus of instruments and voices singing the fun, fast-paced melody typical of Mexican folk. The row of boys walked around to the front of the row of girls, beginning the steps of a traditional dance under the supervision of the dance teacher who would intermittently shout out a correction or tip. 

For a moment, it seemed perfect: the laughing kids, the sunny day, our team sitting in the shade setting up our camera and microphone for an interview, the smell of quesadillas gently wafting towards us from the outdoor kitchen. The teacher we were interviewing sat down. A round of holas and brief introductions before we began to film. 

“Just make sure to look at me while you are talking and not at the camera” one of IsraAID’s team members requested in Spanish as Lauren and I turned on our cameras, ready to record. The soft smiles on our faces quickly faded into concentration and the teacher described her experience during the 2017 earthquake. As she talked, I tried to picture it: the buildings shaking, rocks falling, screams amidst a chaos of people attempting to seek shelter, teachers trying to both stay calm and direct their students while internally afraid for their own lives. 

It almost didn’t make sense. Did that really happen here? It seemed impossible that the courtyard of children dancing, the hallway where two kids furtively attempted to cut class, the kitchen where the cook was making quesadillas were the sites of such pain and fear.

Two days ago, we visited an urban school during a teacher training. It was one of the first of IsraAID’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) trainings, and one of the first activities included an introduction of the teachers, their families, hobbies, and experiences during the 2017 earthquake. After a few teachers made their introductions, one teacher, Maria, stood up. Wearing a paisley pantsuit, Maria was one of the younger teachers in the room, but her experiences struck a chord with everyone there. She told of her husband, parents and kids, her hobbies and teaching style. She then began to describe her experiences during the earthquake, adding to the verbal collection of stories that was filling the room. 

For her, however, the greatest pain she experienced during the earthquake was psychological rather than physical. As the ground started to shake and the chaos began, she was momentarily paralyzed. “I was afraid for my students. I knew that I needed to help them,” she explained. “But I also wanted to go home and make sure my kids were safe.” She remembered seeing other teachers running from the school to go to their families. “But how can I blame them? It’s their family.”

“I needed to stay for my students” she continued, “but I was afraid for my own kids the whole time.”

For the schools implementing IsraAID’s DRR program, attending trainings and implementing drills and projects is not just a box on a checklist. Mexico was not prepared for its last earthquake, and these teachers know first-hand the consequences of that lack of preparedness. The importance of such a training was not theoretical. It was almost too real. 

So they went to trainings and planned activities, ran drills and discussed logistics because they knew what their school was lacking and were driven to close that gap. At the beginning of the DRR program, teachers share their experiences regarding the earthquake both in order to help them deal with the trauma they experienced and to remind themselves and others of the road ahead and the work they need to do to make sure they are ready for the future.

Thank you for your support of this program!

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Ongoing reconstruction in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Ongoing reconstruction in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

On 19th September 2017, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near Puebla, Mexico. The earthquake struck approximately 140km south-east of Mexico City, just two weeks after another lethal earthquake in Mexico. The earthquake, the most powerful to strike Mexico since 1985, killed over 200 people, injured hundreds more, and led to large-scale destruction of buildings and infrastructure. Since September 2017, IsraAID has maintained a team of psychosocial and water sanitation specialists on the ground. The team continues to provide crucial mental health support to vulnerable individuals and communities affected by the earthquake. Due to the success of its DRR program, IsraAID has been asked to implement the program nationally in partnership with the Ministry of Education. Lauren is currently attending Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She is one of two IsraAID Humanitarian Fellows volunteering in Mexico for summer 2019.

The teacher spoke of her experiences during the earthquake in 2017, her voice unwavering yet delicate as she shared her story. As she spoke, a translator whispered the teacher’s words to me. The language barrier impeded my understanding of the teacher’s experiences; however, I realized that even if I was fluent in Spanish, I could not have fully digested her story. I could only attempt to empathize by internally referring to my own experiences. I served as a medic in the Search and Rescue Unit of the Israel Defense Forces and was always prepared mentally and physically in case of an emergency. Yet what if a disaster had occurred and I was not equipped with months of training and preparation? Such a situation, which I could not fathom, the teacher now casually described.

Nearly two years after the devastating earthquake, the teachers share their emotions and vulnerabilities with perfect recall. IsraAID Mexico implemented emergency response efforts two days after the earthquake, and continued with long term projects focusing on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in schools throughout the Morelos region. IsraAID’s curriculum not only prepares faculty and students for emergency situations, but creates a safe space for community members to share their experiences. As a Humanitarian Fellow with IsraAID, I have witnessed the high level of teacher engagement and commitment during the program activities firsthand.

The same session that began with a discussion of the tragedy ended with laughter and high fives. The group from Public School 45 prepared for the next activity: body mapping. Teachers outlined each other on large posters, just as a child might during art class. It was inspiring to see the commitment of the teachers as they excitedly engaged with the activities. Through the laughter and joking, they continued to address their memories of the disaster. One group labeled body parts with physical sensations: heart afraid, hands sweating, knees in pain, legs shaking, feet paralyzed. This session revealed to me the brilliance of the DRR program. The psychosocial support and emergency preparedness lessons intertwined with one other to foster a resilient school community.

I watched as the teachers grew more comfortable, delving deeper from physical to emotional experiences, provoking tears in themselves and one another.

Despite the progress of IsraAID’s DRR program in Mexico, I’ve learned that the communities face an uphill battle to arrive at strong and confident resilience. One principal expressed his concern that, while the training has provided his faculty with an important mentality and skill set, the school lacks basic tools such as fire extinguishers. Another school holds classes outdoors, due to ongoing repairs after the earthquake.

IsraAID’s DRR program is far-reaching and continues to expand as more schools and municipalities express interest in adopting the program. Two years have passed since the earthquake, and it is clear to me that this is just the beginning. Communities need not only the psychosocial support and training sessions, but the technical tools and confidence to keep the entire community safe in times of desperation.

Thank you for your support!

A school mapping activity.
A school mapping activity.
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The Puebla earthquake struck Mexico in September 2017, claiming the lives of 370 people and injuring more than 6,000. IsraAID arrived shortly after to the state of Morelos, to support response efforts, and remains on the ground implementing programs to help the community build back better. Much of this work focused and continues to focus on education, as many children were left without educational frameworks for the immediate period after the earthquake, as schools were destroyed or repurposed as shelters.

Now, IsraAID has shifted toward supporting public school communities in Morelos, providing holistic, participatory educational tools aiming to mitigate risks and reduce the vulnerability to future hazards, fostering safe and healthy learning environments. Together with the Secretary of Public Education, IsraAID is developing replicable practices for educational community-based disaster risk reduction- contributing to positive changes in state policy and practices- with build capacity and resilience in Disaster Risk Reduction.

Gabriela has worked as a math teacher for nine years at the Francisco Zarco High School. Zarco High School has benefited from different projects of IsraAID, including the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene program launched immediately following the earthquake, as well as hosting a temporary learning space.

Gabriela participated in the pilot stage of our Disaster Risk Reduction at Zarco High School, and then became the school’s “Technical-Pedagogical Consultant” for DRR to lead the program, run the needs assessment process, and then follow up with creating and executing the school specific work plan.

In addition, Gabriela will be mentoring five additional secondary schools through the process, creating a ripple effect in the program’s reach. Each of these schools are near her school in Xoxocotla, all of which are high-vulnerability communities that face overlapping hazards.

Gabriela shared with IsraAID staff that after participating in the pilot process at her school, she feels more secure and knows what to do and how to best help others.

We are confident that Gabriela will be a great support to these additional schools, and are inspired by her commitment.

In the coming months, Gabriela and the other 31 teachers who undertook the same key role in their communities, will lead implementation of the program in 150 secondary schools.

Thank you for your support!

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Organization Information


Location: Tel Aviv, Merkaz - Israel
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @IsraAID
Project Leader:
Navonel Glick
Tel Aviv, Merkaz Israel

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