Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Earthquake drill 420,000 to roll in Great British Columbia ShakeOut

Get ready to hit the deck in 10 a.m. earthquake drill 420,000 to roll in Great British Columbia ShakeOut

More than 420,000 British Columbians, 81,000 of them Victorians, will dive under desks today in what organizers say is Canada's biggest earthquake drill.

The first Great British Columbia ShakeOut happens at 10 a.m. with a two-minute emergency drill designed to simulate precautions to be followed in an earthquake.

"Drop! Cover! and Hold On!" is the slogan.

It means that, when an earthquake occurs, you should drop to the floor, find cover under furniture to protect yourself from falling objects and stay put by holding on to the furniture until the shaking stops.

The drill has been organized by the B.C. Earthquake Alliance, a co-operative of provincial, federal and local governments and business.

Heather Lyle, director of integrated public safety with Emergency Management B.C. and co-chairwoman of the Alliance, said public schools have been the most enthusiastic. More than 224,000 students and teachers in 786 B.C. schools are expected to take part.

Twenty-nine post-secondary institutions, including the University of Victoria, Camosun College and the Canadian College of Performing Arts, in Oak Bay, have also signed up, adding 72,761 participants.

Radio stations around B.C. will broadcast drill instructions at 10 a.m.

Today was chosen because it is the 311th anniversary of the massive Cascadia earthquake in 1700, which caused damage from Vancouver Island to California.

The drill is expected to become an annual event and the date will likely change.

The last major quake to hit the Island was on June 23, 1946. It measured 7.3 on the Richter scale.

Lyle said it's important to build awareness that coastal B.C. and Vancouver Island is earthquake territory. "So, are we as ready as we could be? No. Could we do more? Yes. But I think it is getting better and we are taking this far more seriously than we were just a few years ago."

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How prepared are we for another earthquake?

The tremors that shook Ahmedabad and brought down several buildings on the fateful day of January 26, 2001 also exposed our woeful lack of disaster management. A decade after the tremors were first felt, have we learned our lessons?

What will happen if the earth shakes once again? Are we capable of quickly getting to people trapped in the debris? Do we have the equipment to lift heavy chunks of debris to free the victims and above all do we have trained men and women on hand to do the same?

These are questions that merit an answer given the fact that we live in a state that figures in the seismic 4 zone - one which is most vulnerable to earthquakes.

Talking to DNA, Chief Fire Officer, Ahmedabad Fire and Emergency Services (AFES), MF Dastoor said that both the response time and rescue work will be far more effective than what was in 2001 when the earthquake struck.

He said that AFES can operate almost 10 times faster than what it had done during 2001. He said all aspects of a rescue operation that need to be in place for a calamity like an earthquake has been taken care of by the AFES.

This includes getting the latest gadgets, training staff in rescue work and handling equipment, ensuring additional vehicles and quick response among others.

The city, according to him, has the capacity to simultaneously carry out rescue operations in 12 different locations, in case of building collapse.

It should be noted that during the year 2001, the service just had three vehicles and used a rag-tag assortment of equipment for rescue efforts.

"We have 12 different highly equipped vehicles which can take care of all aspects of a rescue operation during an earthquake," Dastoor said.

During 2001, the AFES conducted rescue operation with primitive tools like spades, iron rods and metal cutters. "In 2001, there was no training, no vehicles, no trained staff against 98 buildings that collapsed," he said.

But now the AFES boasts of world-standard equipment including Hydraulic Rescue Tools (HRT), air bags, search cameras and acoustic listening device.

HRT has the capacity to lift or shift scrap weighing over 16 to 20 tonne, while the air bags can move scrap weighing over 20 to 67 tonne.

A team of 36 AFES members had been trained in Netherlands in using the equipment. They in turn trained the fire brigade staff of different districts of the state.

In a nutshell, the AFES has tried to learn from its past and this time is prepared to face any eventuality. Echoing similar sentiments, joint CEO and Information Commissioner, V Thiruppugazh told DNA that the Gujarat State Disaster Management has already trained 6000 engineers and 29,000 masons to construct earthquake resistance buildings. He said that along with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, five other corporations of the state have also been provided with emergency search and rescue equipment.

Talking to DNA, director, Disaster Mitigation Institute, Mihir Bhatt said that earlier livelihood of the affected people was not made a part of relief policy framework, but now livelihood has become a part of relief policy.

But not everybody is optimistic about the govt agencies ability to effectively handle a disaster of this magnitude.

SK Jain, director, IIT Gandhinagar said that the number of buildings is much higher compared to what we had in 2001. "So even if the quality of buildings improved, the sheer number of buildings means the damage could be more. I feel there is a bit improvement in construction but one needs to study it to see how good or bad it is," said Jain.

He said what we need is not voluntary efforts at better construction practices but strict enforcement of rules for the same.
"We need to have a strict system in place that will not allow construction of any unsafe buildings, perhaps then we can breathe a bit easy. So let us concentrate on improving enforcement on the delivery mechanism," he said.

Gujarat observes 10th anniversary of 2001 earthquake

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As the nation celebrates its 62nd Republic Day on Wednesday, people here observed the 10th anniversary of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that killed around 30,000 people.

The city has, however, witnessed rapid development in these ten years. New building, shopping malls, apartments have been constructed in the city.

Hospitals and schools have been developed and new roads constructed in the region.

Expressing their appreciation of the development activities, the locals here said that they were planning to migrate when the mishap occurred, as most of them lost their relatives in the natural calamity.

"When the earthquake took place on 26 January, 2001, we used to think that nothing will be reconstructed again. We were planning to migrate from here. But seeing the rapid development, we are thinking, if we would have migrated, then it would have been our loss," said Tarun Mehta, a local.

"At that time many relatives of mine were killed which is a very big loss, and cannot be recovered. But after that, the infrastructural development which took place and the benefit which we have got since then, the industries are also developing here which is a good boost," he added.

The Gujarat Government also introduced various schemes and compensation programmes for the victims and their families.

"Those who had lost their houses in the city and whose apartments were also destroyed, the government provided them with three relocation sites in Bhuj. RTO relocation, Mundra relocation and Ravarwadi relocation were offered to the people," said Naresh Rathi, Secretary Of Builders' Association.

"They have been given plots in these three locations for 100 square meters, also they have been give Rs 1.5 lakh as per the area, so that they can build their own houses on it," he added.

An earthquake of 7.7 magnitude on Richter scale had struck Gujarat on January 26, 2001. The earthquake, which lasted for over two minutes, even caused damage in nearby Pakistan.

The quake had affected 15.9 million people in 7, 904 villages.

As the country was struck with the tragedy, aid poured in from many countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Switzerland.

Among the death stories, the most heart breaking was the one in which thirty-two students were crushed to death as their school building collapsed on them.