Monday, May 12, 2008

Tragedy in China

As I write the story unfolds with chilling pictures of a 7.9 earthquake on the Richter Scale; eight schools toppled with hundred of teachers and students trapped. Finding them alive beneath these tonnes of concrete rubble, is going to be a real challenge for rescuers. The sight of mothers with their ears clinging to their cellphone tells the all too familiar stories these days about schools, education and emergencies. Hospitals and factories also collapsed posing concerns about the safety status of public buildings in China and I am sure in other countries worldwide. When the dust will have settled and the rescuers called it a day, the debate will rage on:

How prepared are schools and school administrators for these kindsof disasters?

What plans are in or have been put in place to mitigate against these calamities?

How structurally sounds are the buildings in which children are schooled and what can be done to improve the safely of these structures?

How can rsileince be build in to school programs and structure to mitigate the impact of emergeincies and disasters?

The Unversity of Pittsburgh is at the forefornt of ensuring that there is advocacy and expert advise available to improve on the safety in schools as well as providing tool for mitgation of emergencies and disasters. Our pioneering work on GIS/GPS and emergencies in education is one way to provide information for evacuation of schools and response during disasters. The School of Education, Global Information Network in Education (GINIE) through its Help Desk stands ready to answer questions, queries and provide information and expert advice on emergency situations related to education.

As the frequency of disasters increase, we need to build greater resilience at the community level for disaster events can quickly paralyze communication and transport- two key sectors essential for response and rescue. Increasingly first responders must be community based, hopsitals and other treatment centers must be local or established locally. Children must be taught not only about disasters but for disasters. Students need to be sensitized, irrespective of age, to the impact of disaster and how to make themselves safe. The situation in China underscores the urgent need to pursue this approach; an education in disasters but also for disasters. Our work with USAID can be used as a benchmark for retrofitting school building for example. Conducting persistent drills that go beyond fires is another example.

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