Managing the problems related to global warming is quite different than responding to a damaging earthquake albeit both strategies require careful planning and coordination. This paper points to the contrasts between the two ways of management and response, and offers suggestions from the literature on pre-planning for both eventualities.
Managing Strategies for Serious Earthquakes
To say that a major earthquake that hits in an urban area is an acute crisis understates the problem, especially when an enormous amount of damage has been done. In Japan, one year after the calamity of a 9.0 earthquake and a devastating tsunami, some 300,000 people remain homeless and are living in temporary shelters. No amount of earthquake planning could have prepared Japanese officials for this kind of disaster. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies reports that some 50,000 prefabricated homes have been built by the Japanese government, but "reconstruction of permanent houses has barely begun."
In addition to people living in temporary shelters, many people are still living in the second stories of their homes (which were partially damaged from the tsunami and quake) and now, a year after the disaster, many communities are struggling to build homes on land that is well above sea level since people are naturally afraid that another tsunami will come. In some communities there is "fierce opposition to government proposals to merge some communities," the Red Cross explains in an article (www.ifrc.org). There are small fishing villages in a peninsula that is east of Ishinomaki, and this is where the tsunami first hit, about half an hour after the 9.0 earthquake.
These hamlets are "now in ruins, but the local fishermen whose livelihoods depend on the area, are adamant that they should be rebuilt as they were" (www.ifrc.org). However, the money it will take to rebuild those communities exactly the way there were is not going to be available, so there will need to be compromises all the way around. Meanwhile, the memories of the tsunami still haunt many people so there is the psychological aspect to the tragedy, and in addition, the Red Cross mentions that during the one-year anniversary in March, 2012, there was a "constant stream of programs on Japanese TV looking back at the tsunami" that brings back "painful memories and increasing stress levels amongst survivors" (www.ifrc.org). Clearly, this is a disaster of such enormous magnitude that no amount of strategic planning could have prepared citizens or government officials.
An article in Issues in Science and Technology (Beatley, et al., 1993) was of course written many years prior to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but the authors offer information that is useful to planners. First of all, when relating to the United States and earthquake threats, the authors point out that "…all of parts of 39 states -- populated by more than 70 million people -- have been classified as having major or moderate seismic risk" (Beatley, 82). And the article reports that it doesn't necessarily take a temblor that is high on the Richter scale to cause serious damage. In 1983, a 6.7 magnitude quake "destroyed virtually the entire downtown of Coalinga, California" (Beatley, 83).
The key to why those buildings were damaged in Coalinga is the fact that they were "older unreinforced masonry (URM) structures"; meanwhile, subsequent to that event that leveled Coalinga, state seismic structure regulations (tougher building codes) have been enforced in many places throughout California, Beatley explains (84). In effect, stronger building codes are clearly the way for California lawmakers and planners to respond to the threat of future earthquakes. Once unreinforced masonry buildings have been damaged and people killed, new building codes are enforced. In Palo Alto, California, a "seismic Hazard Information Ordinance" was adopted based on "incentives," Beatley writes (86). Owners of seismically "vulnerable structures" are required in Palo Alto to "perform structural analyses and to indicate by a deadline what improvements, if any, they plan to undertake." Building owners are not required to retrofit those buildings. In return for retrofitting their buildings, owners are then offered "an increase in a structure's allowable square footage," along with other bonuses and benefits (Beatley, 86).
When there is a massive earthquake and communities are hit hard, there is no time to be lost making specific strategic plans about what to do. The plans must already have been in place so that when the tragedy strikes, the preparedness kicks into gear. In China the Wenchuan earthquake (2008) -- an 8.0 on the Richter scale -- caused nearly 70,000 deaths, 374,176 injuries and in addition 18,377 people were missing (Yang, et al., 2010, 217). An article in the International Nursing Review reflects the incredible task that Chinese nurses faced as they arrived at the scenes of devastation. The article points out that on May 12, 2008, the earthquake struck, and ten provinces were affected, 6.5 million houses destroyed, and 15 million people were "evacuated from their homes" (Yang, 218).
"…Medical rescue teams were mainly made up of doctors and nurses" but support personnel were sent into the areas hardest hit to prevent epidemics (diseases)," Yang writes. And even though the thousands of nurses sent into the disaster areas "…were highly regarded as experts in trauma, wound care and infection control," Yang writes, "they still considered their practice in the field of disaster to be beyond the scope of their normal nursing practice" (218). Hence, the field work in this earthquake calamity was "an enormous challenge to their earlier perception" of just what it would be like if a huge disaster occurred and they were called into provide medical emergency care (Yang, 218).
The main challenge for the nurses was "…an unfamiliar working environment, with scarce supplies" (due to transport problems created by the quake, it was hard to get supplies into the most seriously affected areas); also, many of the rescue workers had fever and diarrhea, and nurses had to deal with that as well as those immediately hurt by the quake, Yang explains (220). Moreover, nurses had to train the rescue workers to avoid sources of serious infection, "such as corpses," and the nurses had to train workers how to avoid "consuming contaminated food and water." So, within the article about how the nurses in China responded to the Wenchuan earthquake, strategic planning can emerge for those in areas where future earthquakes are expected. In a country like China -- prone to natural and man-made disasters -- "…every nurse should have basic knowledge of and skills in disaster relief"; hence, nursing courses should be subjected to "systematic educational" programs that prepare them for "perioperative care, emergency care, community care and public health" (Yang, 222).
In another article reflecting on the Wenchuan earthquake -- in the Journal of Public Health Policy -- the authors interviewed government officials in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake; those officials reported the critical roles played by not just nurses, doctors and rescue workers, but by "…the whole of society" (You, et al., 2009, 384). The critical roles played in this disaster included: a) organizing evacuation of the people; b) bringing health workers to the rescue to treat injured people; c) "comforting the general public"; d) organizing and pooling living materials (food, clothing, blankets); e) "dispatching personnel to investigate the affected areas"; f) bringing in workers to repair roads, to supply water, electricity, and gas; and g) "endeavoring to obtain external assistance" (You, 384).
Plans for emergency medical assistance had been set in place prior to the disaster, but because hospitals in the region were in many cases destroyed, the civil affairs bureau's responses were to transfer badly injured citizens to hospitals outside the area. This is an example of the fact that even the best-laid plans cannot always be counted on to work when a disaster of this magnitude strikes. Pre-planning helped provide survivors with food and money; the "Emergent Rescue and Treatment Period" plan provided "300 yuan (27 euros) and 15 kg of rice" to each person each month in the affected areas (You, 387). Also, for those planning to rebuild their houses, the government provided a subsidy of 20,000 yuan (1,800 euros) per household. These kinds of plans can be created well before an earthquake disaster, but no matter how well thought-out the planning seems to be ahead of an event like the Wenchuan disaster, in an emergency some plans are just not relevant, depending on the nature and impact of the event.
"People should be encouraged to be self-reliant in emergency situations," You explains on page 392, but also, "multi-sectoral cooperation and coordination is critical."
The devastating tsunami of December 26, 2004 that hit Thailand and other nations in that region of the world -- and killed tens of thousands -- was followed on March 28, 2005 by an 8.7 earthquake in the island nation of Nias, about 130 km west of Sumatra (near the equator). An article in the journal Emergency Medicine Australasia (Jackson, et al., 2006, 199) explains how…