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|Volume 10 |Issue 37 | September 30, 2011 ||
Are We Ready?
Since earthquakes cannot be predicted, it is very important to know how to save our lives.
Over the years, we, Bangladeshis, have become accustomed to natural disasters like floods and cyclone; but when it comes to earthquakes we feel really helpless. Unlike flood and cyclone, the timing of earthquakes cannot be predicted. As a result, it is very important that we know how to protect ourselves during the tremors so as to minimise the loss of life.
Mamun, a fifteen-year-old working at a canteen on the seventh floor of a reputed daily, had run all the way downstairs along with other occupants of the building during the September 18, 2011 earthquake that jolted the country for about two minutes. “I first ran towards the elevator then I remembered that the elevator should not be used. Then I took the stairs. I know it is not right to get down. Rather we should all stay together at the foot of the stairs,” he relates with a confused look, almost trying to defend his action referring to what other more educated people in his building had done.
Let alone Mamun, eleven-year-old Nawaz Ali who studies at an English medium school in Dhanmondi, had also run down 16 stories after he felt the tremor. “All the residents of the 76 apartments in our 19-storied building went downstairs using the stairs,” he informs. The ground floor of Nawaz’s building is a car parking area and the building itself is situated in a narrow alley, with another high rise standing right across. Nawaz went downstairs because “that is what everyone does”.
At a press briefing held on September, 19, 2011, the ministry of Food and Disaster Management informed that to create awareness on earthquake risk reduction, training and drills have been carried out in 28 schools in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet cities. Nawaz, however, claims that he has not received any kind of training or awareness lectures on earthquake at his school. Neither has Neha, a student of class six at a semi-government school in Mirpur, received any training or has gone through any lecture on disaster preparedness. Even Tahmina Rahman Rimi, a kindergarten teacher at Mirpur says, “In the last one year there has been no awareness training on earthquake in the school and neither has the authority taken any initiative in that respect.”
Some universities however, appear to be taking steps in this regard. Dr Pinki Shah, associate professor of University of Liberal Arts, informs about a documentary on earthquake shown at her institution. “Dr Rathana Peou Van Den Heuvel, associate professor of Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) with the help of her other colleagues has prepared a documentary on earthquake awareness and they have been presenting this at different functions of our university since the last six months,” she says.
At organisation levels, the awareness and preparedness programme also appear to be absent. Md Shamsuddin Mollah, a government official, says that even fire drills have never been carried out in his 12-storied office building. They did not even know how to operate a fire extinguisher until one day a fire actually broke out in the building. “Even after the fire authority did not carry out any drills. When I brought the matter up with the authority, they passed on the responsibility to our common service unit and when I went there, I did not receive any satisfactory answer,” says Shamsuddin.
The same scenario is visible in most local organisations including many news agencies. However most multinational companies arrange fire drills regularly but earthquake drills are not common. An official of a multinational telecom company says that they receive emails about the dos and donts during an earthquake, whenever one occurs anywhere in the world, but no drills are performed.
A reliable source from another multinational telecom in Chittagong informs that their building rests on frictionless rollers and is thus earthquake resistant. He says that once a year their office arranges for an instructor from the Fire Brigade department, who executes both fire and earthquake drills. “In earthquake drills we are taught to line up and get down the stairs in an orderly fashion,” he relates.
Ishan, a resident of Japan Garden City also received the same training. “Some months ago they taught us that if there was a fire or some kind of problem like earthquake then you were supposed to go down,” he says, adding how he followed the instruction and climbed down eleven stories once the alarm went off in his building during the last earthquake.
Interestingly, according to Professor Syed Humayun Akhter, Department of Geology, Dhaka University, fire drills and earthquake drills are not the same. “There should be little movement as possible and only to the nearest safest place during a tremor,” he says.
Often earthquakes come in clusters, in three forms — foreshock, mainshock and aftershock, which can be designated only after the events have taken place. Foreshocks precede a much larger mainshock of high magnitude sometimes succeeded by smaller aftershocks. While one quarter of all mainshocks happens within an hour of foreshocks, aftershocks can take place over days, months or years.
Since it is not possible to know during a tremor whether it is foreshock or mainshock, the best strategy should be to stay indoors in a safe place (See box). “You should only come out once the tremor has stopped. But you should not stand on the roads rather go and stand in an open space preferably a field and listen to the radio for government instruction about what should be done next,” Prof Akhter suggests. We should return to our respective home or workstation after some time has lapsed. If an aftershock occurs while we are inside we should again find a safe place indoors and not run out immediately, explains Akhter.
Considering Dhaka's congested buildings mostly with one stairway and less than the 25 percent open space surrounding it, running outside buildings is riskier, Akhter opines. “Stairs are one of the weakest features of a building. Chances are higher that the other structures of a building will remain intact and the stairs will crumble. Plus there is hardly any space in stairs which increases the risk of a stampede,” he says.
The same is true for Sylhet and Chittagong cities with scarcity of open space. Prof Akhter opines that the roads of these cities are more dangerous than the weak buildings. “At best the building will shake or crack or tilt but it will not collapse. Rather the glasses of the buildings will fall in torrents on the roads,” he says weighing the different possibilities. However if after the first quake, damages appear in the building but the occupants remain unharmed, they should not go back to that structure. In that case government should provide them with alternative shelter, says Akhter.
In case a building subsides, Akhter says, the main structure is not usually damaged. “It is likely that occupants will be more panicked than injured. They should try to contact rescue operation but should keep ropes and hacksaw blades handy, in case rescue does not come in time,” he suggests.
Complaining about the government's awareness programmes on earthquakes especially the fire drills that are being aired on TV about building evacuation he said it should be immediately stopped as they are confusing people. Professor Akhter opines that government's actions are more focused towards the after math of earthquake rather than towards creating awareness and preparedness.
Dr A S M Maksud Kamal, Urban Risk Reduction Specialist of Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) under the Disaster Management and Relief Division of the Ministry of Food and Disaster Management, agrees that showing fire-drills on television will not help. He however has assured that they are making three documentaries on earthquake. He hopes that the documentaries will be completed within one and half months and will be aired by the Ministry of Information on both government and private television channels during pick hours.
“We live in an unplanned city and we will be living here in future. So we need to know how to keep ourselves safe here,” he says. “The government can air animations on the dos and donts during earthquake and create awareness. Then they can fix a date (unannounced) for the drill whereby everyone in the city, on the ring of a siren, will be required to move to a safer place. That way people can be prepared mentally for this natural calamity,” Prof Akhter suggests.
Earthquake Safety Tips
Before an earthquake
Identify Safe Places Indoors and Outdoors
Educate Yourself and Family Members
Have Disaster Supplies on Hand
During an earthquake
These tips have been complied from various websites.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2011