Thursday, January 14, 2010

(Haiti quake: Survivors struggle while awaiting aid); an obvious, but much-needed Bay Area reminder on what to consider before an earthquake



The Haitian presidential palace stands in ruins on Tuesday in Port-au-Prince after a huge earthquake measuring 7.0 rocked the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti, toppling buildings and causing widespread damage and panic.
Over the next few days (or weeks), and given that I am a life-long resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I will be devoting a lot of my posts to earthquake / infrastructure related issues. Given the amount of earthquakes which have taken place recently (a 6.5 Earthquake recently hit near Eureka, California, causing some moderate damages, and a 4.0 Earthquake hit around the Milpitas, CA area), I feel it's important to research, as well as educate readers about issues related to earthquakes/infrastructure to inspire change, whether it be small or big scale changes.

With this article, Survivors struggle while awaiting aid, I want to analyze and compare what Bay Area residents need to be concerned about; while my analysis will be very obvious here, a lot of the factors of earthquake preparation are often ignored: earthquake preparation should be based on what will take place, such as damaged public utilities, lack of aid, etc., and I will highlight those problems.

Based on the article by the Associated Press, (source:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/01/12/international/i141733S04.DTL ) Port Au Prince seems to be in a very apocalyptic and chaotic state.

What strikes me the most is the fact that one doctor notes that "there's no water", which makes me infer that the water pipe system has been damaged and obstructed by the earthquake. I don't know much about how strong the Bay Area water system is, but given an earthquake at this magnitude, it would be likely that water and electricity will not be functioning properly. This is something to consider for earthquake safety preparations (i.e. buying lots of water, batteries, etc.)


Another issue is making cell phone calls; victims are trying to call emergency services, but they cannot get through due to damaged phone networks. This really exemplifies the need to have non-local friends and relatives to be able to rely on to monitor your safety in case you cannot contact local authorities. Also, this brings up a very interesting point: given the difficulty to even approach emergency vehicles, one really has to be independently prepared or set up a community system in order to help each other out during an earthquake. In the Bay Area, this difficulty can be propagated by having an earthquake during commute hours, which makes it challenging for emergency vehicles to even travel from one place to another.

Looting seems to be becoming a common event now in Haiti. While I am not sure how to predict looting will take place in the Bay Area, one quote from this article will point out how stressed emergency services will be, given Haiti's situation:

"About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers cleared debris, directed traffic and maintained security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest. The U.N.'s 9,000-member peacekeeping force sent patrols across the capital's streets while securing the airport, port and main buildings."


In other words, it's going to become important to learn how to take care of yourself (as well as others) during an earthquake. I think I stressed that enough.

Given the collapse of the Presidential Palace in Port Au Prince and many other buildings, one final thing to point out is to understand whether or not the building you currently occupy in or work in is safe during an earthquake, and to what extent (I really want to bring this point across). This YouTube video from PBS I watched in 2008 might bring the point across: (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jtAKPO4iHA )



Howard Cook, owner of Bay Area Retrofit, really surprised me about how only 25% of Bay Area homes have been retrofitted, but about 90% of  them are done improperly. I'm not sure exactly how he got his numbers, but he does have a website (http://www.bayarearetrofit.com/) with lots of facts pertaining to proper retrofitting (which can be explained in another post?). The point I want to highlight from him is that there is no proper building retrofit design code in any city in the Bay Area. Therefore, it's important to start asking questions about your structure's stability.

Meanwhile, with all these warnings, I just want to conclude with this quote.


The leading senator of Haiti claims that the death toll could reach about 500,000, but nobody is for certain what the real numbers are. This quote gives a grim picture:

"Bodies lay everywhere in Port-au-Prince: tiny children next to schools, women in rubble-strewn streets with stunned expressions frozen on their faces, men hidden beneath plastic tarps and cotton sheets."

Any earthquake that will take place in the Bay Area will leave staggering philosophical impacts on people. The earthquake in Haiti should serve as a wakeup call to prepare for an earthquake.

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