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What to do during an earthquake ?? (Safety measures during earthquakes)
Various models on earthquake safety are available for the protection during quakes. Three such safety approaches are widely discussed here that could be adopted during earthquakes;
(* yet to be approved by the rescue agencies)
Also, as a precautionary measure, the following preventive method is available before an event of earthquake strikes;
Seismic Retorfitting is the most recommended approach as it strengthens weak buildings; hence, prevents building failures during earthquakes. Earthquake Safety Assessment (ESA) is carried out to know whether a building is safe one. Only if, a structure is retrofitted or found safe in ESA, adoption of former three approaches will be useful. Following describes the suitability of the above three safety approaches in our context.
It is the protection method promoted by the American Red Cross Society, US. In this method, it is advised to "drop" to the floor, take "cover" inside the sturdy objects as Tables, Desks, Chairs or Furnitures and "Hold on" to it firmly till the shaking stops (refer Figs-1 below). If there isn’t a table or desk near to you then it suggests to cover face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. By hiding like this, you can protect yourself from the falling non-structural elements as light partition walls, ceiling fans, cupboards, flying window glasses, false ceilings and other utilities. This method works on the assumption that building is strong enough to resist earthquake so that no chances of building fall or collapse is there.
(Figs 1 : Schematic and practical demonstration of Drop, Cover and Hold on, DCH, approach)
Following the two major quakes in US; Loma Preita (September, 1989) and Northridge (January, 1994) in California, it was seen that large number of people were seriously injured from falls caused by the people trying to get out of their homes. People suffered broken bones and serious cuts when then ran barefooted over broken glass panes. In the meantime, out of millions of people in each of these earthquake-affected areas, many of them reported to have adopted "dropped, covered, and hold on" during shaking. Total casualties in those earthquakes were 63 deaths (3700 injuries) and 57 deaths (1500 serious injuries) respectively. Number of deaths were quite less than injured in those two major quakes !
Engineering researchers have demonstrated that in US very few buildings collapse or Pancake* as they might do in other countries. In such, most of the danger to human lives is not due to structural collapse but is due to falling objects and out of falling as mentioned above in stampede while escaping. In this context, DCH approach is the best one if buidling and its structural components are not going to fall or collapse. This is the case with the buildings in most of the developed countries; including USA. Technological advancements have made events of building collpase quite rare even in worst quakes! With a greater understanding of Structural Engineering, thereby with the help of advanced analytical and design methodology along with the use of modern seismic control devices as Seismic Dampers, Base Isolators, Tuned Mass Dampers made this "safety level" possible.
Drop, Cover and Hold on approach is really justified in well developed countries where most casualties are a result of non-structural objects falling and flying through the air with building's structural system remaining nearly intact. Scenario in these countries is such that around 55 percent of injuries come from the non-structural objects hurtling through the air. Only 1 percent of injuries are caused by building damage/collapse !
Obviously, this is not a case in developing and underdeveloped countries; inluding ours. We are surrounded almost everywhere by non-engineered structures; where most of the structures are built without earthquake safety designs/measures. In such, most of the structures are prone to collapse in major quakes as seen in past earthquakes in Turkey, Iran, India, Haiti and others. It is estimated that in our context, only 5% of the total structures built have had earthquake safety designs. Occurence of powerful earthquake is expected to cause complete collapse of at least 30% of the total building structures. 40% of them are likely to suffer extensive damage or partial collapse. Only around 30 % are expected to remain intact.
(*Pancake : A progressive type of collapse initiated by the failure of a vertical element(s) at the upper floors thereby gradually collapsing the storeys below due to dynamic impact from the upper floors falling down. For instance, failure of WTC)
Concept of Triangle of Life (TOL) is entirely different from the DCH approach. DCH presumes that buidling is not going to fall; whereas, TOL presumes failure. DCH urges to hide under the sturdy furnitures/objects, whereas, TOL recommends to stay "beside" such studry objects (refer Figs-2 below). DCH intends to protect from falling of non structural objects as false ceiling, ceiling fan, partion walls, cupboard, broken glass panes and other utilities inside the building. TOL supposes to protect from the falling building itself !
Triangle of Life (TOL) is basically a void identification method that is likely to be formed inside a collapsed building. TOL is based on the assumption that when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture tends to crush them, however, the height of the object that "remains" acts as a kind of sloping roof beam over the space; thereby forming a void. This space or void is referred as “Triangle of Life” that could be used for survival. Please refer Figs-2 below. The larger and stronger the object, lesser it compacts and less it compacts larger the size of such voids. Such triangles are the most common shape to be found in a collapsed building as per the proponent of this safety approach.
(Conceptual representation on formation of Triangles)
(Probable formation of Triangles next to bed)
(A person in a fetal position lying inside the Triangle of Life)
(Formation of Triangle of Life observed*)
(Figs 2 : Schematic and practical demonstration on Triangle of Life, TOL, approach)
Mr. Doug Copp., claiming to be Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager of the American based rescue team propounded this safety approach*. As per him, he had crawled inside 875 collapsed buildings and worked with various rescue teams. Likewise, he had worked in every major disaster in the world since 1985, except for the simultaneous disasters. The first building he had ever crawled inside was a school in Mexico City during the 1985 earthquake. Just listen to his experience in his own words regarding his rescue experience in that Mexico earthquake*:
"Every child was under its desk. Every child was crushed to the thickness of their bones. They could have survived by lying down next to their desks in the aisles**. It was obscene, unnecessary and I wondered why the children were not in the aisles. I didn’t at the time know that the children were told to hide under something. I am amazed that even today schools are still using the Duck and Cover instructions - telling the children to squat under their desks with their heads bowed and covered with their hands. This was the technique used in the Mexico City school".
(* verification needed)
(** Aisle : is a space for walking with rows of seats on both sides or with rows of seats on one side and a wall on the other)
According to TOL theory, when buildings collapse, the weight of the ceilings falling upon the objects or furniture inside crushes these objects, leaving a space or void next to them. This space is what is termed as the ‘Triangle Of Life’ (TOL). Larger and stronger the objects, lesser it compacts. Less the object compacts, larger will be the size of the void and greater the probability of the person's survival who is using this void for safety hence will not be injured. Numbers of such traingles could be seen everywhere in the collapsed buildings. They are the most common shape one will find in a collapsed building.
Citing one such example it says "People inside of their vehicles are crushed when the road above falls in an earthquake and crushes their vehicles; which is exactly what happened with the slabs between the decks of the Nimitz Freeway. The victims of the San Francisco earthquake all stayed inside of their vehicles. They were all killed.They could have easily survived by getting out and lying in the fetal position next to their vehicles. Everyone killed would have survived if they had been able to get out of their cars and sit or lie next to them. All the crushed cars had voids 3 feet high next to them, except for the cars that had columns fall directly across them".
Similar scenario was in fact observed in capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, during 18-September 2011 earthquake (Mw 6.8, epicentered in Sikkim) where people residing under the car were crushed due to falling of compound wall at an Embassy. Car was badly damaged and crushed killing three people inside. Crushed car with its bumper hitting the road level could be clearly seen in Fig-3 below.
(Fig 3 : A crushed car killing 3 people inside by the falling compound wall of an Embassy at Kathmandu, Nepal during Mw 6.8 Nepal-India earthquake on 18-September-2011)
Safe evacuation refers to "get out of the building you are in" using an escape route to the open spaces outside; safely. This method is suitable for the low-rised, small scaled structures; as residential buildings with few people inside.
If people inside a building can walk after the shaking starts and building is low-rised then Safe Evacuation approach could be the best option provided that there is few people inside. It is to be remembered that earthquake induced ground motions are rarely of uniform type. It is a random excitation with amplitudes fluctuating in a random fashion. Peak amplitudes usually occur after a few seconds/minutes. Bigger quakes usually lasts for more than a minute; usually for several minutes. Peak amplitude of motion delays by sometime after the shaking starts. It is after the generation of the peak amplitude when most of the building collapses.
In the recorded time-history of great sumatra earthquake (Indonesia) in December 2004 (refer Fig-4 below); this significant lagging period between initiation of quake to quake's peak could be clearly seen.
(Fig 4 : Recorded Time History of the earthquake that hit Sumatra, Indonesia measuring Mw 9.1-9.3 on 26-December-2004)
Even during the historic 1934 Nepal-India quake of M 8.4, that lasted up-to 5 mins; a peak amplitude was observed around 2.5 mins. after the initiation of the earthquake. Large numbers of people fled away from their homes to the open spaces outside within this 2.5 mins; whereas their house collapsed after this peak shaking !!! Also, during a relatively moderate earthquake of Mw 5.9 on 23-August-2011 that hit nearby Virginia state (US) shook almost all part of Washington DC (141 Km away from the epicenter); people were out on the streets at Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington following the event as seen in the picture below (refer Fig-5 below).
(Fig 5 : People were seen out on the streets at Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington following the earthquake measuring Mw 5.9 on 23-August-2011 that hit nearby Virginia state, US)
As prevention is always better, strengthening of the existing structure also known as "Seismic Retrofitting" is always recommended. Seismic Retrofitting is a technique to strengthen the existing weak structure applying various techniques after proper study. Retrofitting Techniques include;
Reinforced Concrete Jacketing
Addition of Seismic Control Devices
Earthquake Safety Assessment (ESA) is carried out to find out whether a structure is safe in earthquakes. Seismic Retrofitting is then carried out as per the need of the structure if found necessary in ESA. Apartments and other high-rised structures and buildings of public interests are strongly advised to get retrofitted if found necessary from ESA report. Also, ample open space around such buildings shall be provided.
The above mentioned safety approaches are less likely feasible in such buildings if they fail in ESA.
Suitability of the safety measures primarily depends on whether your structure is "engineered" or "non-engineered" one. Others factors include;
Seismicity of that area
Type of the building
Location of the person inside a building
Engineered and non-engineered structures shall have entirely different safety approaches. Here the "engineered ones" mean properly designed structures by a licensed Structural Engineer; considering seismicity of that area, local soil conditions and others. Non-engineered structures are referred to the buildings constructed with little or no engineering input or with the technical know-how of masons/ contractors.
Drop, Cover and Hold on approach is based on the assumption that building is not going to crumble and is strong enough to resist earthquake. Also, hiding under the furnitures is never meant protect you from the falling building itself ! It can't be generalized as the standard safety approach in our context where 30% of buildings are expected to suffer total collapse, 40% likely to suffer extensive damage/partial collapse and only 30% remain intact. Those 30% buildings supposed to remain intact are also difficult to identify in advance as earthquake comes in "multiple shades". Same building could be highly responsive to ground motion caused by the particular earthquake and non-responsive to another one of the same magnitude but occuring at different locations.
In short, in our view, in our context, occupants residing only in 15% - 30% of buildings (proper identification is essential) are safe enough to adopt DCH approach for sure. Also hiding under the tables and desks could protect you only from the flying objects and falling non-structural debris, not from the falling building itself. Only if your structure is safe in Earthquake Safety Assessment, ESA, or get retrofitted, this approach is recommended.
TOL seems to be more feasible for low-storeyed buildings as higher storeyed buildings impounds large weight from above thus formation of survival voids as proposed by TOL would be less likely in case of failure. TOL approach is plausible for the occupants living in the residential buildings (2-3 storeyed). While adopting this approach, one should remain safe from falling of non-structural objects/utilities inside the building. Also, it could be suitable for the structures with wooden and CGI sheet roofings. Nevertheless, this approach is yet to receive recognition by the rescue agencies.
If escape route is short and there is open space outside; then, Safe Evacuation approach could be the best approach to follow. No need to hide inside the building if you can readily get outside of the building. Suppose if you are at the ground floor and escape route is short then walking out of the building to the open area would be the safest one. People residing in residential buildings (2-3 storeyed) could find this approach useful. However, this approach shall not be adopted if you are at the upper floors of the high-rise/large buildings. Also, people residing inside the buildings with mass-movement as Public buildings/Apartments shall not adopt this approach. Large numbers of people fleeing outside could cause stampede. Retrofitting is the best option for such buildings.
(As the safety approach depends on type of your building and several other factors, it is advised to consult your Structural Engineer to determine the right kind of safety approach suitable to your building. Also the best way to keep yourself protected is to get your building retrofitted if found weak in Earthquake Safety Assessment, ESA, by a professional Structural Engineer. You can consult us at email@example.com)