Centre for Effective Learning Environments (CELE)

Improving School Earthquake Safety in India

 

By Janise Rodgers, GeoHazards International, United States

GeoHazards International is working with the staff of Ludlow Castle School and local New Delhi engineers to provide an earthquake-safe learning environment for this government school’s students. The programme is part of a larger pilot project supported by the governments of India and the United States to build local capacity to reduce the risks posed by existing buildings with inadequate earthquake resistance.

Principal B. K. Sharma has approximately 1 900 students under his charge, ranging from kindergarten to 12th standard, and he wants ensure that all of them know what it takes to stay safe in an earthquake. His school has been selected as part of a pilot project by GeoHazards International (GHI) to improve earthquake safety in important public buildings in Delhi. The project is a partnership between GHI, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Government of India, and the Government of Delhi.

  Students demonstrate that they know what to do during an earthquake during a “Duck, Cover, and Hold On” drill.

Delhi is only about 150 kilometres south of the Himalayas, close enough for a major earthquake occurring on one of the large plate boundary faults in the foothills to cause significant damage to the city. Scientists anticipate that the next segment of the Himalayan plate boundary to experience a large earthquake will be the portion closest to Delhi, because this part of the fault has not experienced a great earthquake since 1505. In 2001, India received a wake-up call from the magnitude 7.7 Bhuj earthquake, when buildings in the city of Ahmedabad (approximately 225 kilometres from the epicentre) collapsed, killing and injuring residents. The writers of India’s national building code recognised Delhi’s earthquake hazard and placed it in Seismic Zone IV, the second-highest in the country.

To help counter the earthquake threat, GHI initiated a project in which engineers from the Delhi Public Works Department work with specialists in seismic safety from India and the United States to make existing important buildings better resist earthquake damage. The process, called “seismic retrofitting”, improves the performance of an existing building that might be heavily damaged or even collapse in strong earthquakes in order to lessen the damage. The amount of improvement and the specific methods used depend on a number of factors such as the extent and nature of damage the owner will accept, the amount of money the owner is willing to spend, the type of building, its age and condition, and how much disruption of the building’s functions and users will be acceptable.

Ludlow Castle School will be retrofitted to protect the students from injury or death, and to reduce structural damage to the building so that it can be used as an emergency shelter and an emergency relief collection and distribution centre for the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. The process involves reinforcing the buildings’ brick walls with “seismic belts” of steel mesh and concrete that will make them more resistant to damage, and bracing or anchoring objects that could fall on the students. To minimise disruption of classes, construction started at the beginning of the school’s summer break in May 2007. GHI worked with SEEDS India, a local non-governmental organisation, and the Government of Delhi to develop a handbook for bracing and anchoring objects. The handbook, printed by the Government of Delhi, is available for use in other schools in Delhi and is easily adaptable for other cities in India as well. GHI and SEEDS sensitised and trained the school staff and parents in earthquake preparedness and disaster response and helped the staff develop an evacuation plan and test it with drills. Principal Sharma was an enthusiastic partner in these efforts and has become an advocate for earthquake safety.

Primary students learn about earthquake safety during a school assembly.  

GHI will work with the Delhi Public Works Department to replicate the work done at Ludlow Castle School in other government schools in Delhi. The Department has recently created a new group of public works engineers focused solely on seismic retrofitting. This group’s first priority will be to assess and subsequently retrofit nearly 500 of Delhi’s most vulnerable masonry school buildings. Once this programme is complete, Delhi will have made significant progress toward improving the earthquake safety of its schools.

GHI has also worked on improving school earthquake safety with the OECD Programme on Educational Building (PEB). In 2005, GHI and PEB produced the book Keeping Schools Safe in Earthquakes which describes strategies and programmes for making schools resist earthquake shaking. In 2006, GHI and PEB organised with the Turkish Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a workshop in Istanbul for representatives of the countries comprising the Economic Cooperation Organisation (www.ecosecretariat.org) to discuss how schools in these countries could avoid the tragedy experienced by schools in Pakistan in October 2005.

For further information, visit the GHI website at www.geohaz.org or contact:
Janise Rodgers
Project Manager
GeoHazards International
200 Town and Country Village
Palo Alto, CA 94301
United States
E-mail:
rodgers@geohaz.org

 

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