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Earthquake preparedness:Movement of persons to a safe area
World population has grown from 1.5 billion to over 7 billion in the last century and migration to urban areas is at its highest. As a result, human and economic loss associated with earthquakes has increased substantially. Past catastrophic events in Japan, Chile, and Mexico have prompted government officials, citizen groups and non-governmental organizations to work together to establish a systemic culture of preparedness, resilience and education which have become international models.
One aspect of hazard mitigation has been the implementation of a public earthquake early-warning systems. This system requires both the capability to alert all citizens as well as to solidify competent population response. In order for these systems to succeed, it is required that the technology of early notification is sound and accurate and that is combined with a well-established and well-practiced response (movement plan). Preparedness of citizens to respond appropriately is paramount. Therefore, drills and education of residents are necessary components for a successful process. The timing of the warnings is directly related to the proximity of the epicenter and, thus, the public is directed to evacuate to appropriate safe areas (Espinosa-Aranda, Lee, 2003).
Structural collapse is the primary cause of casualties in an earthquake, accounting for 75% of all deaths – with 25% of casualties due to non-structural causes (refer to pie chart below). Additionally, the time of day that an earthquake occurs has long been known to affect the number of people killed (Coburn, AW, et al. 1992, Coburn, AW 1994). For example, during the Great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, 447,000 people died because it occurred during lunch time when people were using their stoves. Moving to a safe area prior to building damage prevents human loss and reduces injury. Although fear is a natural emotion at this time, emotional reaction does not result in panic behavior (Bourque, et al. 1992, Prati et al. 2012). Furthermore, selfish behaviors are practically non-existent, while helpful behavior and cooperation are frequent (Bourque, et al. 1993, Drury and Cocking 2007, Ohta and Ohashi 1985, Prati et al. 2012). Mawson (2005), in his Social Attachment Model of human behavior in disasters, concludes that affiliation and cooperation are typical responses in the event of a disaster.
(*Note that fatalities due to earthquakes from 1993-2011 totals 1,154,630 – USGS. But, according to a publication by USGS Geological Survey engineering geologist, Thomas L. Hozer (March 2013), it is estimated that, ‘A total of between 2.6 and 3.1 millionpeople are estimated to die in quakes in the (21st) century…The number of quakes with a death toll over 50,000 may climb to 25 from a total of only seven in the 20th century. Those numbers assume the global population will climb to 10.1 billion by the year 2100.’)
Coburn, et al. (1992) further explains occupant survival and building collapse by stating,
“…it is clear that not all the occupants that are inside a building when an earthquake occurs are trapped if it collapses. People escape before collapse, or the collapse of the structure is not total, or they are able to free themselves relatively easily by their own efforts….A large magnitude earthquake can have a minute or more of strong ground motion but the strongest amplitude shaking often occurs during the early part of the earthquake. A ductile building may collapse over a period of several tens of seconds. A brittle building may collapse more quickly. In the epicentral areas of large earthquakes there are reports of weak buildings collapsing almost instantaneously. Tests of evacuation times show that people cannot get out of a building from anywhere above the first floor in less than thirty seconds, even if they are capable of walking during the violent shaking (Georgescu 1988). “
Mexico is a leader in terms of earthquake preparedness and resilience. The most extensive research found in publication on these two subjects have been written about Mexico’s approach to preparedness and resilience. The program for rapid response for public and private schools for children in Mexico City started after the September 1985 earthquakes which killed more than 10,000 people and injured 30,000. The Mexican Secretariat of Public Education proposed the practice of preventive actions and, since 1992, response plans in the schools have been drawn up as part of the earthquake hazard reduction program. Evacuation drills at schools are held monthly and at times with even greater frequency. Officially, the education program for rapid response has become a part of the Mexico City public school program. Children in secondary schools leave the classroom and the ensuing evacuations are orderly and well-coordinated. Children unable to evacuate, due to location, move to pre-designated safe places (Espinosa-Aranda, Lee, 2003).
In the Mexico City community of H. Rosario, towers broadcast a clearly audible signal when the SAS is activated. This system functions without difficulty, affording residents of the community sufficient time to evacuate their apartments. A community organization had been created after the 1985 earthquake disaster that has conducted consistent training in appropriate response actions, including those which should be taken in a warning situation.Residents indicated that they and others around them were frightened when the signal sounded but responded by turning off gas and lights and evacuating their buildings according to established procedures. The group of residents and bystanders were able to direct people to the pre-designated evacuation routes and outdoor assembly locations. No one reported witnessing behavior such as running, shoving, or other actions associated with extreme fear and flight reactions (Flores, P.J., Goltz, D. 1997).
In March of 2012, a 7.4M earthquake rumbled inMexico City and, in one Montessori school, students ages 6 months to 6 years were already evacuated, gathered in the front lobby of the school, a location city engineers had earlier indicated as a safe spot (Miller, L. 2012).
In Japan, most people travel by train and there is an average daily commute of three hours. In the event of an earthquake, passengers are trained to exit stations immediately. Commuters evacuate because, in past history, many have died from either smoke inhalation or drowning after a tsunami has flooded the subway.
Following is an email from Christopher Redl, a long-time resident of Japan, one day after the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake:
Thanks for your concern after (the) quake hit Tokyo and sorry for taking so long to get back to you. We’re a bit traumatized, but feeling a lot better, now that we’re all safely together.
However, now there’s a possibility that one ofthe nuclear reactors hit may be melting down, which would cause mass panic in Tokyo, only 160 miles away (some of my friends in the financial industry have already evacuated to HK and Singapore). To pour salt on the wound, they’re also sure that there’s a 70% chance over the next 3 days that an M7 aftershock will hit again. We’ve been dreading the fact that we must move to Singapore by August but now are actually looking forward to it. Just hope we can sell our house (which was unscathed, like the rest of houses and buildings in Tokyo) after what happened.
At 2:45 last Friday when the quake hit, I was on the platform waiting for my subway while talking to (my wife) on my mobile. Although I couldn’t feel anything, she said “Oh my God! There’s an earthquake….Oh my God! This is huge!” Knowing that it’s more dangerous to be in a subway station during the Big One (smoke from any fires would kill everyone inside), I sprinted to ground level as quickly as possible. No one around me was running, possibly because it’s hard to feel anything underground when it’s not that big yet.
By the time I got to ground level, I was on the Otemachi/Eitai Dori crossing in downtown Tokyo, or Skyscraper Central. The building over the exit from which I was trying to leave, was shaking with an eerily loud rattling sound. I stopped in my tracks…
Do I run the 5 yards to the Imperial Palace grounds….or do I stay under ground, where I could die from possible fires? I peaked at the straight line I had to run between two 20 to 30 story skyscrapers and saw the weaving back and forth with the same horrific rattling sound. I decided it would be better to be on the Imperial Palace grounds, which are at a safe distance from the skyscrapers and nothing but flat ground.
I sprained my thumb jumping over road dividers are ran so hard that my legs are still sore from the sprint. Running between the skyscrapers weaving back and forth, I noticed many people around me simply gawking at the massive structures above them, sort of as they were frozen in fear.
By the time I got to the safety zone of the Imperial Palace grounds (right across the street from the former Palace Hotel, where a nearly finished skyscraper stood with a massive crane on it), the scene was so shocking. I knew this was the Big One. The quake may have only lasted for several minutes, but I and a small crowd of evacuees were watching the 5 skyscrapers in front of us swaying back and forth like metronomes at a quicker pace. Inside the buildings, you could see the curtains swaying the opposite direction of which the buildings were swaying. The cranes on two of the new buildings being constructed were swaying like a slower paced metronome and the construction workers who had evacuated those buildings were saying, “Oh my God, it’s going to fall”.
Worst thing about these big quakes is that you can’t use your phones, so although I knew I was completely safe on the vast flat grounds of the Imperial Palace, I was overwhelmed with nervousness over whether (my wife), the boys and my mother, who had just arrived the day before, were safe.
I also knew there would be aftershocks but never realized that the aftershocks feel even stronger and scare the (…) out of you even more, after the first big one hits. This happened around 3 times over the next hour. The temperature went from extremely warm all of a sudden, to chillingly cold the next minute. Fleas from the moat around the Palace were flying around madly and everyone was walking through the blizzard of panicking fleas with their mouths covered.
I knew I had to get back to Shibuya, where I live, but there were no cabs to be found. The subways and trains were stopped. I picked a route home from the Palace that had the least number of tall buildings and made my way home. The streets were crowded as never before. Something like a line leading up to the entrance of a hall holding a rock concert. Everyone was walking not only with the fear of further aftershocks, but also with the knowledge that there was a tsunami about to hit, although every policeman you asked, gave you a different direction from where it was about to hit.
As I walked down Aoyama Dori to get back home, I ran into a friend working at Macquarie Securities. He said that parts of the ceilings in his office had fallen off during the shake-up. We were both so nerve-racked, that without thinking, we bought to large cans of Yebisu beers while passing a liquor shop in front of us. It was the best beer I’ve ever had. (leave than in or delete?)
It took over 2 hours for me to walk home and my kids were crying in relief that I was alive. (My youngest son) had been with (my wife) during the quake and (my older son) was at the British School, from which (she had) picked him up before the second big aftershock.
There were thousands of people stranded at train stations that night (remember, the average worker in Tokyo has at least a 1.5 hour commute by train). We felt horrible watching these scenes from the comfort of our house.
While Tokyo was only M6 or M7 (depending on who’s data you believe), I unfortunately can’t dub this the “Big One”. We were the victim of the Big One in Miyagi, roughly 200 miles away, but if we underwent the M9 that they had in Miyagi, I might have died running between the…skyscrapers while trying to sprint to the safety of the Palace grounds.
We have tickets reserved to take off to Vancouver on Tuesday and may or may not use them, depending on the nuclear plant situation. Potassium Iodine (helps you if you’re exposed to radiation) is sold out; water, bread, milk, etc. are in low supply as people hoard in preparation for the worst.
We’ve all been whining about our scheduled move to Singapore, but I think Singapore is starting to look a bit better after this.
I must say, however, if the skyscrapers I saw shaking, both old ones and new ones, held up so well, the Japanese should be praised for their anti-earthquake design measures. There were no damaged homes orbuildings in my neighborhood, but for a small concrete wall (which was so old that its foundation had probably already rotted whose fall was saved by an electrical pole). Tokyo is fine.
The Japanese people around me during my 2 hour walk home were exceedingly calm and collected. People were helpful, polite and cooperative. It was the best example of how cool these people really are and I realize why I’ve lived here for 26 years.
Hope you’re all well and thanks again for checking in’ (Redl, March 13, 2011).
The implication is clear. With an early warning system, evacuation plans in place and regular drill education for the public, people can and do move to safe areas or even exit buildings prior to and/or during earthquakes.
With no warning system in place and no system of evacuation to a safe area, people react instinctually. Although fear in these situations are inherent, behavior remains cooperative and movement is orderly. Following is a video depicting a typical scenario of unpreparedness in regard to drill education – even the teacher reacts by running. Note that this is in California where students are taught to duck, cover and hold on. Other videosdepict Japanese students who are alarmed but instinctually run out of the room. Students in Mexicoand China (April 2013) and the adults in a legislative session in Mexico City calmly follow systemic training. When evaluating each scenario, one can observe consistent order and cooperation. None of the persons moving during the earthquakes listed above were injured or killed.
Human behavior before or during an earthquake is more consistent when there are early-warning systems, organized education in emergency protocol and collective trust in a system invested in the protection of its citizens. This is especially critical for our children who are mandated to attend unsafe schools in known earthquake zones. This risk is unacceptable and the urgency in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is critical.
One of several seismic hotspots in the world is located just 50 miles off of the Pacific Northwest coast. Subduction zones, like the ones in the Pacific Northwest, Japan, Chile, and the Indian Ocean, produce the largest earthquakes in the world. Called mega or super-earthquakes, geologists estimate the next one to hit Oregon to be about 9.0 in magnitude(Baker 2010, Baker 2011, Chang 2010, Wang 2009) and will occur as Wang contends, “It’s not if, but when”(Baker 2010, 2011).
A seismic risk assessment conducted by Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) in 2007, shows that 1,018 of Oregon’s 2,185 school buildings are at “high or very high risk” of collapse during a major earthquake (Open-File Report O-07-02). Yumei Wang, DOGAMI engineer and geohazards leader, affirms that, “other states and countries are far ahead of Oregon on seismic school safety.” She adds that after an earthquake, “Oregon politicians are going to slam their fists and say we need to do this now,” (Baker, 2009, 2010). Furthermore, Brian Tucker of Palo Alto, California provides insight into why it is important to act now rather than later and why people have not acted as of yet. He professes that people do not pay attention to signs, thinking such a disaster will only happen somewhere else. Tucker says, “The story is getting boring (to the public)…” when referring to repeated tragedies that could have been largely averted by being proactive (Showstack 2010).
Scientists, particularly those in the fields of geology, seismology and paleoseismology unanimously agree about the inevitability of the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) megaquake. Wang asserts that “like death and taxes” it’s “gonna happen,” and that “all of Portland will be shaken hard.” She further conveys that there will be landslides and extensive liquefaction that will severely affect industry, development, levies, transportation and, emergency management response. Included in the buildings that will be damaged will be public schools with “a lot of children,” a vulnerable population that is important to protect. There are about 300,000 children in the 1000+ at-risk schools and “if the earthquake hits today, we’re in trouble.” Because children are mandated to go to school and they are sent to schools that are not safe, there is a huge responsibility to mitigate this issue(Baker 2010).
Previously deemed to be a ‘dormant fault line’ due to lack of written records, it is now known that Pacific Northwest faults have a volatile past and an earthquake in this region is inevitable. Chris Goldfinger, an earthquake and tsunami expert and one of the world’s leading experts on subduction zones at Oregon State University, utilized data to create the earthquake timeline for the Pacific Northwest coast (Cascadia Winter 2010, p.8, BBC Documentary 2012). These data note that over the past 12,000 years, Cascadia megaquakes (8.0-9.0) occur on average every 240 years. The last quake of this magnitude in the CSZ occurred in January of 1700 and is the second largest earthquake in U.S history (USGS 2013). Because the last megaquake was over 312 years ago, the Cascadia region is described to be ‘nine months pregnant and overdue.’
Oregon’s seismic code standards implemented in “1994 did not take into account the extended duration associated with subduction zone quakes, about 4-5 minutes of continuous shaking”. Furthermore, the median age of Oregon school buildings is “46 years with almost 1,200 high occupancy school buildings being over 50 years old,”(Tesfamariam & Wang 2010, Wang & Burns, 2006).
Few individuals will contest the importance of protecting society’s most valuable and vulnerable members, children; and few will contest the importance of providing compulsory education for all children. Even fewer people will argue with the fact that earthquakes kill people and damage property. But these three essential principles are not valid in modern society. In many earthquake-prone countries, a surprisingly high number of school buildings are not constructed to withstand even moderate-sized earthquakes. The fundamental question that we must ask ourselves is: “Why is it so simple to acknowledge the importance of the education and safety of our children, yet so difficult to ensure”(OECD2004, pp. 19-29).
Those at the greatest risk, should the quake occur during school hours are our children. With 300,000 students mandated to attend schools at high-to-very high risk of collapse (DOGAMI Open file report O-07-02), seismic safety is imperative. Money is scarce however and the cost of retrofitting is currently beyond our reach. Although ‘duck, cover and hold on’ is still the safest protocol when unable to leave a building, Yumei Wang, GeoHazards team leader at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries and school safety advocate, also states in Baker’s 2009 article, “The ‘duck, cover and hold’ drill assumes the building is still standing. That kind of says it all.” Wang further contends that,
“The engineering profession needs to break ‘out of the box’ and start empowering school administrators. For example, (1) develop very inexpensive mitigation solutions that can be applied to lots of schools in immediate future, (2) communicate risk in a persuasive, non- technical and understandable manner, etc…. Let’s hope that the recent tragedy in China will help spur much needed school safety.” (Revkin 2008).
CoreFirst personnel recommends that a two-pronged approach be considered for earthquake drills. In schools in which a full seismic upgrade has been completed, “duck, cover and hold on’ makes sense. In unreinforced masonry buildings that have not been reinforced, we recommend evacuation. The risk to life is too great to consider “duck, cover and hold on” to be a wise protocol.
If you feel a quake:
- Be calm. If you have completed the previous steps, you have prepared
- Stay apart from windows. Open the doors. The best shelters, are: solid buildings, good and solid furniture
- Avoid lighting matches or any FIRE before checking gas escapes
- Do not evacuate if your house or building is a solid one
- An evacuation must be always performed towards safety zones previously defined as secure.
- Do not use elevators
- If you drive on a highway, get far from bridges and high roads
- On an open street be always far of cornices, electric cables and hanging signs
(Articles not hyperlinked are available by request)
Area M. P. Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.City,541, 523-3133.
Baker L. (2009). Portland Monthly. In the Zone.
Baker L. (2010). Oregon Business Journal. Portland is unprepared for a big earthquake.
Baker L. (2011). Portland Urbanista. School items of note.
BBC Documentary (2012). Cascadia earthquake 9M is imminent.
Bourque L. B., et al. (1993). Human behavior during and after the earthquake disaster.US Geological Survey Professional Paper1553 (1993): 3.
Chang, Alicia (March 03, 2010). U.S. News. Northwest at risk of megaquake like one in Chile.
Coburn A.W et al. (1992). Factors determining human casualty levels in earthquakes: Mortality prediction in building collapse. Earthquake Engineering Conference 1992, Balkema, Rotterdam.
Coburn, A. (1994, April). Death tolls in earthquakes. InWorkshop: Medicine in the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR): Research, Preparedness and Response for Sudden Impact Disasters in the 1990s(pp. 21-6). < The> Royal Academy of Engineering.
Drury J., & Cocking C. (2007).The mass psychology of disasters and emergency evacuations: A research report and implications for practice. Falmer, Brighton: University of Sussex.
Espinosa-Aranda J.M. & Lee W. H.K. (2003). Earthquake early warning systems: Current status and perspectives. In Early Warning Systems for Natural Disaster Reduction. Edited by J. Zschau and A. N. Kuppers, p. 409-423, Springer, Berlin.
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Miller L. S. (March 21, 2012) Better prepared: Mexico’s 7.4 quake causes damage, but no deaths.
Mexico’s worst earthquake in nearly 30 years was met by stricter building codes and a city prepared by evacuation drills and early warning systems.
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Redl, C. (March 2011). Tohoku 2011 earthquake experience.
Revkin A.C (2008). From Sichuan to Oregon: Schools at Risk. New York Times.
Showstack R. (2010). Haiti Earthquake Underscores Need for Better Use of Seismic Information.Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union,91(4), 30. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1029/2010EO040002/abstract
United States Geological Survey (USGS), (2013). Largest earthquakes in the United States.
*Note that increase in population and infrastructure greatly increases loss from disaster
|1||Prince William Sound Alaska||03/27/1964||9.2||The Great Alaska EQ of 1964|
|2||Cascadia Subduction Zone||01/26/1700||9.0||Additional information and links|
|3||Rat Islands, Alaska||02/04/1965||8.7|
|4||Andreanof Islands, Alaska||03/09/1957||8.6||300 aftershocksEQ and tsunami effects/links|
|5||Shumagin Islands, Alaska||10/11/1938||8.2||The earthquake generated a tsunami, which was recorded at Dutch harbor, Seward, and Sitka, Alaska and at Hilo and Honolulu, Hawaii.|
United States Geological Survey. Largest and deadliest earthquakes by year: 1990-2011.
Wang Y. & Burns, W. J. (2006). Case History on The Oregon Go Bond Task Force: Promoting Earthquake Safety In Public Schools and Emergency Facilities. InProceedings of the 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference, Commemorating the.
Wang Y. (2009). Lifeline Resiliency: A Look at Earthquake Risk in Portland, Oregon. ASCE American Society of Civil Engineers Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering Conference, Jun 28- Jul 1, 2009, Oakland, CA.
(Articles not hyperlinked are available by request)
Allen R.M., et al. (2009). The status of earthquake early warning around the world: An introductory overview. Seismological Research Letters Volume 80, Number 5 September/October 2009.
Atwater, et al. (2005). The orphan tsunami of 1700. University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA 98145. U.S. Department of the Interior.
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Berlinski, C. (2011). The politics of earthquakes. Los Angeles Times 2011.
BBC Documentary (2012). Cascadia earthquake 9M is imminent.
Carrillo, C. (2011). . Terra: The power of research. Cascadia roulette. Interview with Bob Yeats. Oregon State University, 2011.
Fraser S. et al. (2012). Tsunami evacuation: Lessons learned from the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. GNS Science Report 2012.
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Guest Columnist (March 29, 2011). The Oregonian. Seismic safety is an unfinished job at Portland schools.
Mexico Seismic Registry Centro de Instrumentación y Registro Sísmico, a.c.
Steps (in order, please note they have warning systems): Stay Calm, Eliminate fire sources, Move away from windows and unsecured objects, Do not use elevators, Locate self in security zone, Find evacuation route.
PBS News hour (2012). Would a major earthquake sink Portland or Seattle in liquefied soil?
This will affect emergency management response.
PBS News hour (2008). Oregon mulls shoring up schools against earthquakes.
Smith, M, Upton, J. (March 22, 2012). Why California lacks an earthquake warning system Like Mexico’s.
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Wang Y., (2009). Lifeline Resiliency: A Look at Earthquake Risk in Portland, Oregon. ASCE American Society of Civil Engineers Technical Council on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering Conference, Jun 28- Jul 1, 2009, Oakland, CA.
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Yeats R.S. (2004). Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest: A Survivor’s Guide: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded. Oregon State University Press 2004.
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Discussion of school evacuation protocol after Tibetan 6.9M earthquake – safe movement during an earthquake
Dubai residents discuss evacuation during an earthquake (April 2013) – no injuries or casualties
Earthquake Montage National Geographic
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Schools not ready for megaquake (August 2012).
Tangled blame in quake deaths Washington Post (June 2008)
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