The results from document analysis and interviews allow us to draw a panorama of how children are considered in disaster risk reduction policies and in risk education programs in Portugal, as well as how their participation is envisaged (or rather not) in these matters.Footnote 5
Children in Disaster Risk Reduction Policies in Portugal
The analysis of policy documents and legislation pertaining to disaster management in Portugal has shown that children and young people are seldom considered as active subjects. There are no specific guidelines or plans aimed at children (other than of an educational nature) and they are referred to in these documents solely as a vulnerable group with special needs, alongside the elderly and disabled persons. No specific references to age groups are made, even though the label “children” encompasses from newborns to 17-year olds.
For instance, in the Technical Notebooks (a collection of manuals that contain technical information on emergency planning) published by the Autoridade Nacional de Proteção Civil (ANPC/National Authority for Civil Protection), children are only mentioned as potential victims—for example, “Nitrates in water are not a health hazard below 50 mg/l, except for young children, in which case n-nO2 should not go above 10 mg/l” (ANPC 2010, p. 103)—or as targets for special measures—for example, “Focusing on the element to be protected, the population, we distinguish specific vulnerabilities, such as those caused by difficulty in walking, hearing or seeing, children, elderly people, foreigners, among others, in order to prepare in a suitable manner the protection measures” (ANPC 2009a, p. 23); “Step 2: To keep families together and to ask adults to help children and others in need of assistance” (ANPC 2009b, p. 48).
The National Civil Protection Emergency Plan only mentions children when it describes the actions to be taken in the emergency stage, once again describing them as a vulnerable (therefore problematic) category: “Evacuation of at risk population, with a special focus on the sick, bedridden, elderly, children, disabled and others in at risk situations” (ANPC 2013, p. 37). Therefore, children are viewed in disaster policy as potential victims and recipients of assistance, not as active agents.
The civil protection domain in which children are addressed as the main target is school safety. There is legislation on self-protection measures in schools, including a mandatory rule for the creation of emergency plans. The Ministry of Education (ME) published a safety manual for schools in 1999, updated in 2003 (ME 2003), which establishes a set of rules for safety against risks in the regular operation of schools, health and hygiene, fires, and earthquakes. Students in this manual are again defined solely as targets for prevention measures. In the chapter about earthquakes, their vulnerability is highlighted: “Earthquakes cause fear and unsafety, especially among young pupils who have a tendency for panicking, so before an earthquake happens it is important to ensure that students as well as teachers are perfectly aware of the procedures to be followed, in order to naturally apply the basic safety principles” (ME 2003, p. 70). The document then sets out a list of measures to attain the objective of raising knowledge on what to do in an emergency situation: awareness campaigns, training sessions for teachers, and protection and evacuation exercises. The following pages make perfectly clear that agency lies exclusively with teachers, who are tasked with instructing and steering the behaviors of students during an emergency. Each school has a safety delegate who is always one of the teachers. If individual school emergency plans sometimes award responsibilities to class representatives (students elected by their peers to represent the class), for instance on evacuation procedures, the students must receive specific training. This shows, again, that even in a context in which they are a core element, the agency and capabilities of a school’s children are not taken into account, and they are relegated to a passive role.
In 2005 the ANCP and the municipal authority of Lisbon published an updated version of the 1999 manual for designing prevention and emergency plans for schools (Lencastre and Pimentel 2005). As well as establishing a set of requirements that prevention and emergency plans should include, the 2005 manual contained a video on school evacuation in emergencies that aimed “to raise awareness of the whole school community, teachers, staff and especially students. In addition to being the duty of all to contribute to avoid accidents, everyone should know exactly what to do in an emergency situation and understand the fundamental usefulness of their actions. Thus we will be training discerning adults with a new safety attitude” (Lencastre and Pimentel 2005, p. 7). Therefore children are seen as “adults in the making” (de Almeida 2009) and not “beings in the present,” actors on their own right.
Children in Risk Education Programs
As Benadusi (2015, p. 553) puts it, “education represents a sort of universal passkey or panacean solution within current strategies of disaster risk reduction and disaster management.” And this seems to hold true in Portugal, a country where there is a great emphasis on the issue of risk education for children. Children and young people of school age are considered a prime target for public programs aimed at raising awareness on matters of prevention and mitigation of major accidents and disasters.
This concern also is present at the legislative level. At the national level, Article 7 of the basic law on civil protection (Law number 80/2015) states that: “Education programs, at their different levels, must include civic training, civil protection and self-protection matters, in order to disseminate practical knowledge and rules of behavior to adopt in the case of severe accident or disaster.”Footnote 6 At the local level, the law that defines the institutional and operational framework of civil protection states that municipalities are responsible for “Information and training of the population of the municipality, seeking to promote their awareness on self-protection and cooperation with the authorities” (Law 65/2007, Article 2, point 2c)Footnote 7 and should “promote information campaigns on preventive measures, aimed at specific segments of the target population, or about specific risks in previously defined likely scenarios” (Law 65/2007, Article 10, point 3e).Footnote 8
The ANCP has a wide array of initiatives aimed at promoting information and education about risk among children. For instance, it promotes regular training courses for teachers and educators on civil protection and publishes books, leaflets, and videos aimed at children, parents, and teachers, which are then disseminated through sessions in schools and public libraries.
In 2006, the ANCP launched the Civil Protection Clubs program. This initiative aimed to stimulate the creation of such clubs in schools (from the 5th to the 12th grade), by providing information and training resources for acquiring specific skills and developing actions. Its core document (ANPC 2006) included the definitions of main concepts and risks, the purposes and rules for creating a civil protection club, and a list of indoor and outdoor activities, as well as suggestions for practical actions. The objectives of civil protection clubs are defined as “to raise awareness of children for civil protection; to know stakeholders and actors; to identify natural and technological risks; to acquire safety habits; to develop skills in terms of civil protection; and to promote suitable attitudes and behaviors in case of emergencies” (ANPC 2006, p. 27). These clubs are led by a teacher and are supposed to include between 15 and 20 students. Cooperation agreements between schools and local civil protection services are mandatory and cooperation with fire brigades are recommended, “with the purpose of contributing to the strengthening of the relationship between the school and its environment and to the development of children and young people’s skills in the areas of protection and rescue, volunteering and community spirit training” (Order No. 13993/2009).Footnote 9. Furthermore, “these agreements, framed by educational projects and the activity plans of schools, may concern: (a) activities to be undertaken in the subject area of civic education; (b) implementation of joint actions for the prevention and awareness of existing risks; (c) participation in exercises and drills; (d) conducting diversified practical activities that motivate students to safety issues; (e) the creation of civil protection clubs.” Therefore, these clubs aim to provide hands-on training and drills, though not necessarily following a participatory approach to risk education, since children’s perspectives, opinions, or previous knowledge do not seem to be taken in account.
Hundreds of civil protection clubs were thus created across the country, though the actual number is not known (Inácio 2010, p. 15). Their effectiveness in terms of knowledge acquired by children was assessed in a Master’s thesis (Pestana 2014), which concluded that the clubs bring an added value in terms of raising awareness, although not in all subject matter of civil protection. Moreover, civil protection clubs were dependent on schools and teachers’ engagement with the project. According to the interviews with ANCP staff and local civil protection officers, teacher turnover in schools and recent changes in education policy (during the right wing government that held office between 2011 and 2015 and introduced several expenditure cuts) had an impact on the sustainability of the program. Particularly detrimental were the reduced numbers of hours allotted to extracurricular activities and the termination of some school disciplines (Project Area, Civic Education, and Citizenship) in which civil protection content was included; as a result, many clubs ceased to exist.
We are always dependent on having people inside the schools who are more motivated for these matters, either because they were volunteer firefighters or had some connection with Civil Protection or had lived in a country where there is more awareness of the need to work before these situations happen. So we are much too dependent of the initiative of schools. (Interview with the Director of the Communication and Awareness Unit of ANCP)
Three or four years ago we had Civil Protection Groups in schools. We would go there, give some training and then they would go on, doing games and dynamics. But there was no continuity. Why? Because teachers changed, they all went to other schools. We had good results for three or four years and then we could not ensure the continuity of the project. (Interview with the Commander of the municipal services of civil protection in Amadora)
Portugal has a delegation of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies that translated into Portuguese in 2004, and updated six years later, the handbook INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery (INEE 2010). The aim of the translation was to reach the broadest possible Portuguese language-speaking community, and not just the national Portuguese audience, since according to the interview, education in emergencies in the context of humanitarian response is more relevant to African countries because Portugal had not at the time experienced any recent significant disasters.
In Portugal we don’t have concrete actions other than training for working in development cooperation. INEE members in Portugal all work in development cooperation or education for global citizenship, we are more concerned with people in Portuguese speaking countries and with global inequalities […] we have a group working on education in contexts of fragility, such as Guiné Bissau, Angola or Mozambique […] using OECD’s concept of fragility. So we translate the materials and include inputs from local practices. (Interview with INEE representative)
In 2015 the ANCP and the Ministry of Education published the Framework for Education on Risk, which provides guidelines for inclusion in the school curricula of issues that pertain to civil protection and risk reduction (Saúde et al. 2015). The creation of this reference frame had been suggested in a recommendation of the Conselho Nacional de Educação (CNE/National Council of Education) in 2011, which stated “to know and to act in this paradigm of ‘risk society’ requires new personal skills, [as a] basis for a more active, participatory and informed citizenship.”Footnote 10 School is seen in this report as “an engine for mobilizing society […] through the students, their families and the education community” and debates among students and with scientists are proposed as the main tool for addressing uncertainty.
The aims of the Framework for Education on Risk are: “to raise awareness among the school community for the issue of civil protection; to identify risks; to acquire safety habits and to develop skills in civil protection; to promote suitable attitudes and behaviors in case of emergencies; to promote internal risk safety plans; to promote personal safety” (Saúde et al. 2015, p. 6). Within the reference frame, children and young people are conceptualized as potential “agents for change, not just by acquiring knowledge, but also as conveyors of a prevention culture to their families, thus being powerful partners of the institutional agents of civil protection” (Saúde et al. 2015, p. 7). This notion of children as mediators for their families (a way to reach adults indirectly) is also present in the interviews with stakeholders.
At the local level, municipal services develop their own educational programs aimed at children and schools, but noticeable variations can be found between municipalities. For instance, Lisbon has one of the oldest educational programs. Its Growing up in Safety program has been in existence since 1992. It comprises several publications (books, leaflets, videos, and board games), a website with information aimed at children and parents, interactive games, and a house open for school visits, where children learn fundamental concepts about safety at home and on the street, how to act in case of an earthquake, fire, and other seasonal themes that are addressed throughout the year, for instance, security on the beach or forest fire prevention in Summer (Oliveira 2014). Loures also has a similar infrastructure.
Other municipalities, such as Amadora and Albufeira, have a different approach. Local civil protection staff conduct workshops in schools, mostly at the elementary education level, as part of their awareness and training programs. These programs are based on the principle that “the children are at the center of the neighborhood network, able to disseminate information to their families” (Carvalho and Leitão 2015, p. 18; Burnside-Lowry and Carvalho 2015). Classes receive the visit of civil protection officers, firemen, or Red Cross volunteers who provide training on self-protection in case of emergency and first-aid. Usually school visits end with an emergency drill for fire or earthquake. These educational activities seldom have a participatory nature. The workshops include hands-on activities in which children are taught how to act in case of an emergency but no formal feedback mechanisms are in place. Nevertheless, interviews have shown that on an informal level some mutual learning occurs. Trainers try to adjust their activities in reaction to the background and experiences of children. Some of the children’s responses and comments during the activities are included in reports sent by facilitators to their superiors.
We are reducing the amount of time devoted to explanations [in workshops]. […] Then we divide them [the children] in groups, there is a team leader and we encourage them to do team work and then they present what they had been discussing. […] Sometimes it’s just brainstorming, others we ask them to devise a TV ad to raise awareness among people at home […] sometimes the results are extraordinary, they have fabulous ideas. […] then we write reports to our superiors and we include recommendations that children had made, but we just gather information, decisions are made at the political level. (Interview with the Commander of the municipal services of civil protection in Amadora)
Other actors are also involved in risk education, in particular companies and nongovernmental organizations. The Associação Portuguesa de Seguradores (APS/Portuguese Association of Insurers) develops some activities concerning risks that are aimed at children, such as the publication of books and digital games. For the APS, the best way to talk about prevention and protection (namely insurance) with younger children is to introduce them to the notion of risk. To convey this message the APS has published and distributed illustrated books, one of which is dedicated to “great disasters,” written by two well-known Portuguese children’s authors, about 14 large-scale disasters throughout history, including the Great Fire of London and the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
We believe that we have to raise awareness among young people on risk, because if they have an idea of the risks they incur and the consequences of events that may happen throughout their lives, they will have a tendency to protect themselves. There are several ways of self-protecting, prevention is one of them, but there is also protection through insurance, because not everything can be prevented. We thought this was the best approach for a younger audience […]. We aim to tell them that risks exist, people can protect themselves and one way of doing that is with insurance. (Interview with a representative of the Portuguese Association of Insurers)
Some research centers develop activities with schools focused on risk education, particularly in the case of earthquakes: from lectures to open days at the universities during Science and Technology week. For instance, the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon holds a Day of Natural Risks, and receives visits by school groups for hands-on activities under the label CSI Planet Earth: Disasters under Investigation.Footnote 11 Researchers also visit schools with an “earthquake simulator” to train children on earthquake self-protection actions (Custódio et al. 2016). Again, these initiatives are adult initiated and adult driven, leaving little room for children to express themselves.
Overall, an emphasis on younger children, more pliable and susceptible to education efforts, is noticeable. There are far fewer programs aimed at teenagers, and interviewed officials recognize that young adults are a more difficult group with whom to work. Risk education in Portugal still tends to follow a traditional, top-down approach that envisages children as the recipients of training, but that has little if any say on the content or format of learning. At most, they are seen as “conveyor belts” that can pass on relevant information to their families or as unfinished “adults of tomorrow,” duly trained to act appropriately when facing danger. What adults can learn from children is completely left out of the picture.
Children as Active Participants in Disaster Risk Reduction
In Portugal, the issue of children’s participation is fairly recent, even though the country signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. According to Tomás (2012, p. 82), the culture of participation by children in Portugal is weak and it is just “in the twenty-first century that we witness the implementation of a set of programs concerning participation rights, though not always converging, integrated, effective, or even sustained.” The author further explains that this situation is due to the persistence of an authoritarian culture, the weakness of social movements, the action of pressure groups, and a slow justice system.
Our analysis also has shown that little consideration is given to public participation in disaster prevention and management, even in the case of adults. According to the Basic Law on Civil Protection (Law number 80/2015), populations are to be informed and trained, in order to raise awareness regarding self-protection and collaboration with the authorities (Article No. 4, point 2c).Footnote 12 Citizens have the right to be informed on risks and public information seeks to “enlighten populations on the nature and aims of civil protection, to make them aware of the responsibilities of each institution and raise awareness on self-protection” (Article No. 7, point 1).Footnote 13 No mention is made to the contribution citizens can give or the need to consult them in defining and assessing risks, vulnerabilities or prevention, mitigation and preparation measures.
According to the Resolution No. 25/2008,Footnote 14 all civil protection emergency plans (the nonconfidential parts) have to undergo public consultation procedures. The PROCIV Technical Notebooks No. 3 (ANPC 2008) and No. 7 (ANPC 2009a) also mention public consultation as mandatory for emergency plans, but do not go into details on how to conduct formal interaction with the public, other than setting a minimum period of 30 days after public publication. The National Civil Protection Emergency Plan (ANPC 2013) underwent public consultation in June 2012, and in it is mentioned that several contributions were received and integrated into the final version of the plan. Several municipal emergency plans give similar information. But citizen participation in this kind of processes is usually low and no specific actions for children are included. Furthermore, according to the interview with ANPC officers, only 145 of the 309 municipalities in the country complied with the requirement to produce a municipal emergency plan.
The above mentioned Framework for Education on Risk also underwent public consultation, but again children were not specifically targeted in the consultation process; despite that unfortunate defect, the document acknowledges the importance of public engagement in risk reduction: “For an effective safety culture to exist, it is necessary that individuals are encouraged to participate actively in the construction of solutions for problems, by discussing them, intervening, demanding, cooperating with public services and other organizations” (Saúde et al. 2015, p. 7).
An assessment of local level engagement in DRR based on the case study of Amadora (Burnside-Lawry and Carvalho 2015), one of the few Portuguese cities (alongside Lisbon and a handful of others) that are part of the Resilient Cities Program (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction—see ANPC 2016), has shown that children are already included in public communication and public consultation events, but the level of public participation is yet to be achieved: “the majority of DRR events involve public communication, described as information conveyed from the team to publics, followed by a high number of public consultation events, where information is conveyed from publics to the team. Social media initiatives and university initiatives are consistent with public participation as there is evidence that information is exchanged between publics and the team, and that dialogue takes place” (Burnside-Lawry and Carvalho 2015, p. 92). School lessons, school evacuation drills, DRR International Day Conference, and child care are classified as activities targeted at children that have a public communication and public consultation nature, but not a public participation one.
UNICEF Portugal develops quite a few initiatives concerning children’s participation but none in the area of DRR, since it is not considered a pressing need in the country:
It’s not that disasters are not a priority but we are really a very small team, with reduced human and financial resources, so an identification of what are the most pressing areas for the Committee is made and those areas are chosen. It’s never a water-tight thing, we don’t say at the beginning of the year “we will go this way and will not follow other routes that we come across,” of course not. But we do this reflection and this evaluation and try to figure out what we can do with the team we have. (Interview with the UNICEF representative)
Volunteering is another form of participation in disaster risk reduction, albeit far from frequent in Portugal, a country where volunteering levels are very low (according to the latest survey, in 2011 only 12% of over-15 year olds did any volunteering work)Footnote 15 and where the topic is not considered a priority. Nevertheless, some initiatives aimed at young people include volunteering programs related to civil protection. For instance, the Portuguese Institute of Youth and Sport funds a program aimed at young people between 12 and 17 years old. The objective is to occupy the free time of youth with “community interest projects, for developing personal and social skills and acquiring knowledge on the socioeconomic world,”Footnote 16 including in the environment and civil protection field. Another example is the Young Volunteers for the Forest, created in 2005,Footnote 17 which aims to preserve forest resources and ecosystems by raising awareness among the population and preventing forest fires. This program was discontinued for some years, but it was recently reactivated by the national government and is being implemented in several municipalities. Although it is aimed at young people between 18 and 30 years old, in some cases the local initiatives include younger participants.
Other organizations such as the Red Cross Youth,Footnote 18 volunteer fire departments,Footnote 19 or the ScoutsFootnote 20 also have programs and activities that include young people in civil protection activities. These initiatives include participation in risk awareness campaigns, first-aid training sessions, cleanup actions after disasters, and forest protection. These activities are mostly done by teenagers and young adults. Younger children are excluded from the initiatives or have a secondary and sporadic role.
Children participate in sporadic actions, for instance collecting food donations […] at Christmas they wrap up presents in stores […] in these cases we involve younger children, 7 or 8 years old […]. But when we talk about more continuous actions we want volunteers with some maturity, we believe the ideal is to have 14, 15 year olds. (Interview with a representative of the Red Cross’ Youth Department)
Nevertheless, disaster risk reduction in Portugal is still a long way from achieving the aim of engaging children as active members of their communities, with valuable knowledge and skills that can be mobilized to implement risk prevention and impact mitigation.