MOUNTAIN LAKES, New Jersey — When one compares the number of earthquake-related deaths in California and Japan to the number of earthquake-related deaths in the most earthquake prone developing countries, one finds a ratio of 1:100.
For Brian E. Tucker, founder of the nonprofit GeoHazards International, this disparity became clear following two earthquakes at the end of the 1980s. The first, occurring in Armenia, was a magnitude 6.8 earthquake which had an official death toll of 25,000 people. The second was a magnitude 6.9 earthquake in San Francisco, which caused significant physical damage in highly populated parts of the city. The result was a death toll of 63.
Tucker, who at the time worked for the California Geological Survey, decided that it was time to fight against this disparity. After taking a leave of absence to get a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard, Tucker left his position at the Geological Survey and founded GeoHazards International, a nonprofit specializing in empowering developing countries in preparation for natural disasters.
GeoHazards International aims to reduce the casualty gap between wealthy and low-income countries by “helping communities apply the science, engineering, and public policy expertise that has subsequently reduced losses in places such as California and Japan,” according to the organization’s 2015 charting impact report.
The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, with a death toll of over 7,500, served as a great tragedy. Yet in this tragedy, it is likely that retrofitting measures implemented through cooperation between GeoHazards International and local structures such as The National Society for Earthquake Technology-Nepal reduced risk, and ultimately death. These measures were implemented as a part of GeoHazards International’s 1999 Kathmandu Initiative, which predicted up to 40,000 deaths would occur in case of an earthquake scenario.
In a New York Times article published in May 2015, engineer Kit Miyamoto praised structural details in the buildings, such as the bending of steel rods around concrete columns to reinforce building structures. With the majority of earthquake related deaths caused not by the earthquakes themselves, but through the collapse of building structures, important structural details such as this are vital in the prevention of further casualties.
The importance of prevention and structurally secure building in the developing world continues. According to the International Business Times, 80 percent of new buildings are constructed “informally,” without the necessary engineering expertise, further contributing to earthquake related damage and casualties and highlighting the importance of safer building structures.
Despite this, the continued cooperation between local agencies and nonprofits such as GeoHazards International will without a doubt play an important role in the prevention of natural disaster related damage and casualties in the developing world.
– Andrew Michaels