Monday, June 23, 2008

Troubling Earthquake/Disaster policies

So we have spent the better part of our intelligence advising 'during earthquakes, if indoors seek shelters under sturdy tables or structure." This is advice that is outdated and should not be given for two reasons. Most people who die from earthquakes, die as a result of falling or collapsing structures or flying debris and evacuation is still the primary approach to reduce loss of lives and move people to safety in event of an emergency. So how and when did we collaboratively agreed that it was best to stay in buildings shaking violently during a quake and how did we get so may people to agree. Interestingly, that may have been the advice during 9/11 as the Twin Tower burn to an eventual pancake collapse and it appears that that may also have been the case in China where hundred of school children lost their lives probably suck under "sturdy" chairs and desks.

In the event of an emergency in any building or areas the best option is still evacuation and that should be done within one minute. This raises several issues related to building like schools and hospitals noted for mass occupancy: The need to design and build structures with safety as a key priority is essential. The height of some of these building as in the case of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and schools in China pose additional threats and increases the risk of collapse. They however, highlight the urgency with which evaluation should be pursued during an emergency or the unfolding of a disaster event. So here goes, this "sturdy table or chair does not work under twenty tons of concrete and I suspect when it was proposed, building were mostly wooden, single floor with low centers of gravity. Building structures have changed and it is time to rewrite the policy:

During an earthquake all school buildings must be cleared as quickly as possible. At best this should be accomplished within the first minute of the initial jolt. Residents should move to an open space, previously identified and clear of building, trees and other features likely to create or increase risk. Experience has shown that vibrations that precedes earthquake can be heard and the associated shaking tend to increase in intensity for the first few seconds before it peaks, providing a few crucial seconds for evacuation. During an earthquake time is measured in seconds or less and so people must react in seconds or less.

In the case of schools, each classroom shall be affixed with two doors and school floors with staircases or exists on either end of these floors particularly where they extend above two floors.

Monthly drills must be conducted in schools to ensure that with near instinctiveness students can assist in securing their safety given the few adults who may be present with them during an emergency or disaster.

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