The Sunday, July 24, 2011 Los Angeles Times (Op-Ed, page A26) had an excellent and quite thought provoking article on the relationship between a disaster’s outcome and a country’s public policies. Claire Berlinski, the article’s author, stated that while there is a popular belief that a country’s preparedness is inextricably linked to a country’s economic wealth there is much more to that story.
The images from Haiti were startling and heart-breaking. Everyone could see the shoddy construction of the homes, schools, hospitals and businesses led to massive death and destruction by the 7.0 magntitude earthquake last January (2010). Over 200,000 people died and forced a million and a half to live in camps.
Speed over to Concepcion, Chile, that endured an 8.8 shaker that moved the entire city to the west 10 feet. Sadly, 521 people died in this city, but this quake shook an urban population 180 times HARDER than Haiti, yet look at the difference. The city of over 200,000 citizens and another 700,000 in the surrounding area had much less damage. Let’s be clear, though -- buildings collapsed, bridges fell, homes were destroyed. Concepcion experienced an extraordinarily hard shake, but you can’t help but note the difference between the two areas.
Why? Building codes and diligence. As Ms. Berlinski so pointedly states, Chile has “some of the strictest and most advanced building codes in the world, and because the codes do not merely exist on paper – they are enforced.” And look at Japan. Granted this country was hit hard by the nuclear power plant disaster and an unbelievable tsunami, but the earthquake itself did very little damage. And why? They changed the way they built buildings. They worked on shoring up those that needed it. They designed and invented ways to make buildings more earthquake resistent. Building codes and diligence.
And the link to a country’s economics? This may be a little more complex to sort out, particularly in countries like Haiti where corruption has its own political party, but look at Chile. The salary of an average Chilean worker is one-third that of the United States worker, yet their public policy has invested in itself and, in this case, most definitely saved lives.
So, what about your workplace or your school? Honestly, this may be difficult – albeit not impossible – information to get, but what about your house? Is it up to code? Is it bolted to the foundation? Is your masonry held together with rebar, or a kiss and a prayer? (My mother’s favorite saying).
Can you, individual person, make a difference? Sure you can. Start now. Find out about your city’s building codes with regard to earthquake proofing. Find out about your own house or apartment to see what it has or needs. You can do things yourself, such as bolting things inside, too, such as high bookshelves, heavy TV’s and cabinets. Talk to your city council and your state legislators and get your local codes to be strict AND enforced.
Don’t wait until things start falling down to remind you that a well-enforced building policy can go a long way to keep you and your house standing.