Before the event

There are many things that governments, communities and individuals can do before a hazard, to try and reduce their impacts. Below are some of the most common things done, along with a brief explanation of their benefits.

Building Design

Research connected to earthquake building design is developing all the time and there are many different techniques used. Most countries that suffer from regular earthquakes will have some building regulations to ensure that buildings will survive most earthquakes. A common quote connected with earthquakes is "it is not earthquakes that kill people, it is the buildings that kill people". Therefore it is really important the buildings do not collapse and trap people. Some of the most common designs include:

Base isolation: Separating buildings from the ground. To do this you have to put buildings on some kind of springs or bearings which allow the building to move independently to the ground beneath during an earthquake. In order to do this all buildings have to separated from each other and there has to be space between buildings to allow them to move independently. In addition all services like electricity, gas, water, sewage and cable have to be connected to the house via flexible cables so that they don't snap in an earthquake.
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Dampers: These are large weights e.g. water tank or metal/concrete ball that are placed at the top of tall buildings. When an earthquake strikes large buildings start to sway. The dampers swing in the opposite direction to the building to reduce sway. Dampers also stop buildings sway excessively in high winds. However, tall buildings do need to be able to sway slightly, if they can't then they are too rigid and will collapse in a quake.
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Taipei 101 - BBC article

Cross-bracing: These are basically metal reinforcements placed throughout buildings to give them more strength during ground shaking experienced in an earthquake. On the building below, the cross-bracing can be seen on the outside of the building.
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Concrete reinforcement: Concrete reinforcement is simply metal added to concrete wall, floors, ceilings and columns to give them extra strength so that they can withstand ground shaking during an earthquake.
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L'aquila building design not followed - BBC article

Investigation into collapse of schools during Sichuan earthquake - Guardian article

It is also possible to defend buildings against other hazards. For example:
  • Stilts to reduce damage from coastal and river flooding

Home Preparedness

As well making sure the structures of buildings are safe, it is also important to make sure the interiors of buildings are safe. During an earthquake many people get injured by falling objects and shattering glass. Some things that can be done to prepare houses for earthquakes and other hazards, include:
  • Securing all pictures, photos and mirrors to the wall
  • Securing all high and unstable furniture to the wall e.g. bookcases and gran father clocks
  • Shatter proofing windows
  • Securing ornaments that may fall and hit people
  • Installing a safe room (can be important during hurricanes and tornadoes)
  • Removing carpets from ground floors, if flooding is common


It is not possible to defend against all hazards, but defences can be built to try and reduce the impacts of some hazards. For example:

Floods: levees, flood barriers, storm channels, stilted shelters
Coastal flooding: Sea walls, reforestation (natural)
Volcanoes: lava diversion channels

Prediction and Forecasting

Hazard prediction was mentioned in an earlier section (Hazard event prediction). However, it is important to remember that hazard prediction takes place before the event and has to be planned. It is also important to remember that some hazards can not be predicted e.g. earthquakes and hurricanes. As well as prediction forecasting the spread of hazards is also important so that populations can be warned. The path of floods, hurricanes and droughts can all be roughly forecasted in order to give warnings.

Warning Systems

As well as been able to predict and forecast hazards, it is then also necessary to warn communities and individuals. Warning systems can take a number of approaches:

Volcanoes and tsunamis: These have a very rapid onset, so it is often to warn people as quickly as possible so warning sirens are often sounded.
Floods, Hurricanes and Droughts: These have a much longer inset so it is possible to warn people via the TV, radio, mobile phone, internet and newspaper.

Usually a variety of warning techniques are used to ensure that everyone is informed. In poorer countries where people don't own TVs or mobile phones or have access to the internet, more traditional methods of communication are used like radio and even word of mouth. It is important to remember that warning systems only work if you predict and forecast accurately.

Indian Ocean tsunami warning system - USAID

Chile sued over tsunami warning system failings

Evacuation (routes and drills)

Again, as well as having good prediction and forecasting and good warning systems, it is also important that people know what to do during a hazard. Therefore it is very important to carry out evacuation drills. For example in areas like California and Japan, schools and businesses will regular carry out practice alarms, where people will learn how to react e.g. get under desks or in door frames and then how to evacuate buildings and finally where to muster and register.

For hazards where it is necessary to move further from the hazard e.g. hurricanes, volcanoes or tsunamis then evacuation routes are clearly signposted and mass evacuations often practiced. It is necessary to know the capacity of roads and bridges, or more casualties might be caused in the evacuation.

Sometimes it can be safer not to order an evacuation if the threat of a hazard is known late. For example if a hurricane is about to hit, it safer for people to take cover in their house, rather than be on the road in their cars where there is a risk of accidents, falling trees, flooding, etc.

I should have evacuated New Orleans earlier - BBC article

Rescue Teams, Medical Centres and Disaster Drills (training)

Rescue Teams: It can take a long time to train rescue teams and equip them. For examples sniffer dogs can take over one year to train. Therefore it is very important that you train rescuers well before any potential hazard may happen. If you don't have your own rescue teams, then after a disaster you have to wait for foreign rescue team to arrives. In the intervening period many people who could have been saved may die.

UK rescue team arrives in Japan - BBC article

Cloned Sniffer Dogs Begin Duty - BBC article

Medical Centres and Medicine: To save injured victims and to reduce secondary hazards it is very important that medical centres are prepared and medicine stockpiled. Because medical centres (hospitals) are so important it is important that they are built to high standards and in safe areas so that they don't get damaged in the hazard. It is also important that there is a large stockpile of medicines, because the supply might be disrupted after a hazard. It is also important that you have the ability to set up temporary medical centres e.g. field hospitals in case the main hospitals are damaged or there are no medical centres near the hazards. It is also important to have procedures for collecting things like extra blood which are often high demand after a hazard.

Disaster Preparedness - American Blood Centres

Disaster Drills: In areas that are at high risk from disasters, it is common to carry out disaster simulations. In simulation actors often used to simulate victims and different scenarios. The drills are done to try and prepare rescue teams, the police, hospitals, etc. of how to react during and after a major hazard.

Stockpiling (water, food, blankets, tents)

It is very important to stockpile certain supplies before hazards, because supplies will be disrupted after a hazard. Countries can stockpile for their citizens, but it can also be important for individuals to stockpile. Things that are important to stockpile include:

Water: During hazards, water pipes can be ruptured and stores of water can become polluted. It is therefore very important that there is a supply of fresh clean drinking water. Clean drinking water can reduce the risks of main secondary hazards including typhoid, cholera and diarrhea.

Food: After a hazard the production, processing and supply of food can all be disrupted. Therefore it is very important to stockpile non-perishable food e.g. tins and dry food to reduce the risk of people suffering from famine.

Tents and Blankets: During hazards buildings are often destroyed or badly damaged. Therefore people are often unable or to scared to return to their homes. Therefore it is very important that there are tents for people to sleep in and blankets to keep people warm so the effects of exposure are reduced i.e. being exposed to very cold, very hot or very wet conditions.


During a major hazard event, transport routes may be damaged and disabled. It is therefore very important that certain form of transport are available to help rescue victims. Boats and helicopters are often the only way to rescue people after hazards like floods and hurricanes where roads are under water.

Comparison of China's, Italy's and Haiti's Recent Earthquakes

After the recent earthquake in Haiti, the Red Cross did some research to ascertain why so many people died in the Haiti earthquake compared to the recent Sichuan, China earthquake (stronger at magnitude 7.9) and the recent L'Aquila, Italy earthquake (weaker at magnitude 6.3). The research looked at human and physical factors. It also looked at adjustments made before the event. Some of the physical factors are obvious e.g.
  • Magnitude of earthquake - The Haiti quake was stronger than the Italian quake so helps explain the high number of deaths and injuries, but was actually smaller than the China quake.
  • Epicentre of earthquake (near large populations) - The Haiti quake happened near Port-au-Prince while the Italian quake was in relatively rural area and the Chinese quake did not happen under a big city, although because of its strength it effected a large area.
  • Depth of earthquake (focus or hypocentre) - The Haiti quake was very shallow. The focus was less than 10km deep.

However, the research showed there were many other human factors that contributed to the death toll. These included:

Population density: The quake's epicentre was near Port-au-Prince, exactly where Haiti's population density is highest. The density is so high because of all the migrants that have moved to the capital to live in informal settlements.

Poverty: Because of Haiti's extreme poverty (about 72% live on less than $2 a day) people often lacked education about hazards and were often forced to live in vulnerable areas. People certainly didn't have money to stockpile resources (food, water, tents, blankets, etc.) or move to safer areas after the quake.

Building Design: Because of the extreme poverty in Haiti and the large-scale rural-urban migration, large numbers of people lived in temporary accommodation on marginal land (informal settlements). Because of this many buildings collapsed during the quake trapping people inside. It was also discovered that permanent structures hadn't necessarily followed building codes, even the presidential palace partially collapsed during the quake. The destruction of large number of buildings is highlighted by the large number of people left homeless (about 1.2 million).

Government Preparation (corruption): The Haitian government has often been very corrupt. This ongoing corruption has been blamed for the devastating impact of the earthquake. Corruption meant that less money was spend on education and healthcare. It also meant that officials took payments to ignore building malpractice. Also corruption less money was spent on preparing for potential quakes e.g. no money spent on training search teams or stockpiling equipment or investing in helicopters. The lack of search teams is highlighted drastically in the very small number of people who were successfully rescued (only 1 in 16,588 with a total of only 211 people rescued). The poor building codes and lack of healthcare is also highlighted in the number of deaths (1 in every 15 people affected by the quake died).

Transportation: The airport and major port in Haiti were both severely damaged during the quake which it hard for rescuers and aid to reach the most needy. Damaged roads and rubble in the streets also made it very hard for emergency teams to move around Port-au-Prince.
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All Images have been taken from the following BBC article: Why Did So Many People Die in Haiti Earthquake - BBC article

China Earthquake Articles

Italy Earthquake Articles

Haiti Earthquake Articles

Sichuan quake: Reconstruction to cost $150 billion - Guardian Article
Ban Praises Quake Response - BBC article
China quake: Why did so many schools collapse - CS Monitor article
L'Aquila Dogged BY Earthquake Through 800 year History - Telegraph article
SCientists in dock over L'Aquila earthquake - BBC article
Powerful Italian Quake Kills Many - BBC article
L'Aquila Earthquake: Survivors seek answer from government - Guardian article
Haiti Earthquake - Engineers work out how to rebuild capital to withstand future shocks - Guardian article
Haiti devasatation exposes shoddy construction - BBC article
Haiti Earthquake: Reconstruction could take five years - Telegraph article
Haiti President Says Earthquake Damage is Unimaginable - Guardian article