Early Warning System Saves Lives In Central America

Published on 06 March 2009

The SATCA system uses state-of-the-art technology to collect disaster risk information in a single web platform.

Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, droughts… nothing anyone can do will prevent them. But a lot can be done to reduce their impact – especially if there’s an early warning.

In Central America, one of the world’s most disaster prone regions, WFP has taken the lead in developing a disaster early warning system.

The new system works as a one-stop shop for information on droughts, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions. The information enables humanitarian agencies and national authorities to anticipate and better respond to natural hazards.

Hurricane warnings

WFP’s country director in El Salvador, Carlo Scaramella, says the system already showed its value during the last hurricane season in Haiti. "We'd been monitoring the formation of hurricanes in the region and we were able to detect the trajectory of a hurricane four days in advance. This meant we could alert our own systems and coordinate with the government to receive food and dispatch it to affected areas immediately after the disaster."

The SATCA project was developed by the WFP Emergency Preparedness and Response team in El Salvador to cover the entire region of Central America and Caribbean. The system's name comes from the Spanish Sistema de Alerta Temprana para Centro America or Early Warning System for Central America.

SATCA brings together information from more than a dozen leading scientific organizations, national governments, donors and other international organizations. It translates technical jargon into user-friendly and easily accessible information and promotes common standards across the region. More importantly it monitors trends in natural hazards. 

Key pillar of disaster preparedness

SATCA is now a key pillar of the disaster preparedness and response set up used by WFP and its regional partners, including governments and regional institutions.

It also provides alerts to the WFP’s Central America Humanitarian Response Hub. Also based in El Salvador , this facility is part of WFP's global network of humanitarian response hubs which provide fast responses to emergencies. The Central America Hub has been crucial in ensuring the rapid delivery of relief aid in recent emergencies in Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, and Panama. 

The challenges posed by climate change, which is resulting in more frequent and more intense natural disasters, make this infrastructure all the more important.

User Experience Survey

about the author

Laura Melo

Public Information Officer

A Portuguese national, Laura Melo joined WFP in 2001 as a Public Affairs Officer working in Eastern Africa.