Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learning from the Earthquake in Nepal

After: The square is now piled with rubble after tall temples were brought down by the force of the earthquake
It seems like it was only yesterday that I was writing about the Calbuco volcano eruption. It seems like it was only yesterday because it pretty much was! Calbuco is still throwing thousands of tons of ash into the atmosphere.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed over 4.000 people hit Nepal this last Saturday. There have also been fatalities in the Himalayas as an avalanche flattened part of the Everest Base Camp. Nepal is a poor country and is struggling in its disaster response effort. People are digging out the victims themselves, the wounded are being treated on the streets and tents given that hospitals have been overwhelmed. There’s a lack of food, water and fuel. The spread of diseases is a growing concern as the sanitary conditions worsen. For thousands of people there’s nowhere to go given that their homes have been completely destroyed.

As we try to learn from this latest disaster, a few thoughts come to mind:

*Avoid earthquake and disaster prone areas in general, especially countries that aren’t prepared for them. This should be obvious enough although many times you don’t have much of a choice. This has been the worst earthquake in Nepal in the last 80 years… 80 years isn’t that much time. I feel the same way about Chile and New Zealand. Being located in the Ring of Fire means earthquakes are something you’ll have to live with. For millions, these places are home and they simply don’t want to live anywhere else. Millions of others can’t leave even if they wanted to. Having said that, if you do have a choice or if you can live elsewhere, it’s a good idea to do so and although you can’t live your life in constant fear because that simply isn’t living, do take it into account when planning your next vacation. Maybe it’s because I lived in South America most of my life, but I just don’t see the need to go to poor, developing nations to have a good time. Actually, it’s kind of the other way around.

*Drop. Cover. Hold. Drop down to the floor. This is the first thing to do given that an earthquake is likely to make you fall. Once on the grown, try reaching a safe location nearby, such as under a sturdy table, or next to low lying furniture that isn’t likely to fall over such as couches or next to an interior wall. Cover your head and back of your neck, these are your most critical body areas and may be hit by debris and falling objects. Hold your position until the shaking stops. This advice can be life-saving and is indeed accurate for places like New Zealand, Los Angeles and other parts of the developed world where buildings are made to withstand earthquakes.

*Don’t run outside. You’re safer indoors. The front of buildings contains an important amount of glass, steel and other materials which may fall on you and cause severe injuries as you exit the building. Falling trees, posts, signs and power cables may injure you as well.

*Careful about the “Triangle of Life” theory. This theory recommends people not to take the Drop, cover and hold standard approach, instead recommending to take shelter next to solid items, which in theory will provide pockets of space as the building collapses. Research from most reputed agencies and governments strongly disagrees with the “Triangle of Life” theory. It is only during pancake-type collapse of the structures, with one level falling on top of the other, that some success can be found with this approach. Even then, the exact object and its load bearing capability is extremely difficult to figure out during the ongoing disaster. Most deaths are caused by falling objects rather than collapsed structures during earthquakes that take place in modern buildings such as the ones found in developed countries.

*While Drop. Cover. Hold. is without a doubt the best approach and the “triangle of Life” Theory is indeed highly controversial, it is true that old masonry buildings and other rudimentary constructions typical of third world countries can and often do fail catastrophically during earthquakes. If caught inside such a building, your chances of making it out alive are drastically reduced. If the exit is within reach you want to escape from it as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that the entire front of the building may fall over you as it collapses. In some cases, survivors have managed to make it out alive by either reaching or finding themselves on the top floor of the building, reducing the amount of debris that falls over them and making it less likely to be crushed. Survivors have said they “fell” along with the building, managing to survive by being left on top of the rubble rather than under it.

* Katmandu has been impacted the worst by the earthquake, but its also where rescue efforts are being concentrated the most. Small towns and villages, many destroyed completely by the earthquake, are receiving little or no help. Many have been cut off from the outside world because of affected roads and bridges.

*Have a bug out plan. If there’s one thing most serious disasters have in common, is that when you can’t stay in the affected area you better have somewhere else to go. It is important to prepare and be ready. Some people don’t like being labeled as “survivalists”, but I think it’s much better than being labeled “refugee”.
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.


Don Williams said...

One thing that can be done in earthquake prone territory is to look at the earthquake construction code in places like California and compare it to local codes/construction.

Know which buildings are the safest and chose those for home , work and education. Before renting an apartment, look in the basement.

My understanding is that many older buildings in California may not have been retroactively upgraded in construction to the current code-- that such upgrades are required only when building modifications activate various legal triggers.

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/california-building-codes-earthquakes-2592.html (last paragraph)


Don Williams said...

Another thing that can be done in earthquake country is to check with the local government geologist , planning department,etc to see which places in the local area are most vulnerable.

In San Francisco, there are maps showing how vulnerable various neighborhoods are to "soil liquidification" -- the effect in which earthquakes cause the ground supporting heavy building to become liquid (and buildings to collapse). This vulnerability is a function of water table, soil type, drainage,etc.

Even if you don't live in a stronger area, it is good to know where they are because they may be refuges in a bad earthquake -- still have water, food , shelter,lack of fires, etc.