June 12, 2010

Earthquake Drill? Or Show?

Translation: 灾难教育严重缺乏 学校“逃生演练”像演戏 via China Youth Daily

After attending a school earthquake drill, "old bathroom", a Kunming middle school student, unhappily wrote on his QQ blog: " 'Since the cadres are here, use this escape route.' Was it a drill or a show?" He continued:
Today is May 12th. Our school was selected for an earthquake drill demonstration. The experience was classic, truly classic! Spectacular, quite spectacular! And unique, extremely unique!

As soon as the siren sounded, we stupidly rushed out of the classroom and ran towards the nearest stairs. When we got there, I felt confused, because one student donning a red hat was blocking the way. He said: Classmates, the stairwell is off limit. Take this escape route instead.

Bewildered, we walked toward the direction he pointed out, though it was already packed with people. We thought that maybe the first staircase had been assigned to another class. Because of the crowded condition of this current route, it took us nearly 10 minutes to descend from fourth floor to the lobby. Once in the lobby we noticed that except for two, six other stairways stood completely empty. I was baffled.

Finally we reached the ground level. The next step should be running to an open area as fast as possible, but another red-hat student stopped us and indicated the direction behind him. With confusion we did as we were told--going through several buildings, even risking one that was six-storied [and would have been dangerous in the event of a real earthquake], so that we can gather on the alleged wide open space on the other side. Not to the soccer field that can easily accommodate all teachers and students but toward the front gate. There were so many people that some almost were trampled.

After that we had to perform the drill a second time. It was then I finally understood why. Apparently several cadres, laughing and talking, had gathered around the two stairwells for an inspection visit, while the rest of the cadres were at the front gate. To cooperate, we must leave 6 staircases empty, waste 10 minutes descending the stairs, avoid open space, and brave the risk of a stampede in order to assemble at the front gate. This is our preparation for a future possible earthquake. With this type of drill, the death rate will definitely be much higher. What's more, we have to spend yet another weekend doing a formal practice drill so that more senior officials can inspect us.

Are we doing a drill or acting? Are we students or actors?
When the reporter showed this blog entry to Yunnan Technical Association for Emergency Rescue (云南省应急救援科学技术学会), the experts immediately praised the student's acute observation. Hou Zhaomin (侯昭敏), principal engineer at the association, consultant for the One Fundation Rescue League, and team leader for Yunnan Huofeng Rescue team, said: "This entry reflects the common problems in schools: insufficient understanding of crisis management and a lack of emphasis, so that the drills are only completed perfunctorily without regard to effectiveness."

One of out every two students has received injuries

Crises at primary and secondary schools are mainly of two types. First category comprises natural catastrophes like fires, earthquakes, typhoons, floods, and mudslides. The second category includes man-caused accidents due to inferior public sanitation, health and hygiene, disease prevention, health-care, and engineering quality.

In a 2006 report published by Ministry of Education, trend analysis reveals that drowning, traffic accidents, stampede, carbon monoxide poisoning, collapsed buildings, and other events account for 59% of the safety accidents taking place in primary and secondary schools. Fighting, campus violence, suicide and building fires account for 31%. The remaining 10% are due to flood, tornado, earthquake, hail, storms, and other natural disasters.

72.3% of the safety accidents take place in the countryside and 27.7% in the cities. In rural areas, the number of accidents, casualties, and fatalities are clearly higher than city statistics by a factor of 2.9, 3.9, and 4.2, respectively. 43.8% of the accidents occur in primary schools, 34.8% in junior high, and 9.8% in high school, indicating that younger students are more prone to misadventures. The increase in campus violence cannot be overlooked, as 25% of safety accidents in schools involves kidnapping, explosions, stabbing, arson, sexual assaults, and fighting, resulting in 65% injury rate. Holiday periods correspond to more occurrences, or about 36% of safety accidents. Most happen in school, and the rest on roads going to and leaving from school, by the rivers and reservoirs, or in areas surrounding school. The mishaps occur primarily because teachers and students lack awareness, obvious flaws and deficiencies exist in safety management, and rural schools have inadequate infrastructure.

"According to one national survey, student casualties are as high as 50%, which means that one out of every two students has sustained injuries at some level. There are 0.22 billion students in China. Approximately 0.1 billion have come to harm." A person at Yunnan Technical Association for Emergency Rescue explained, "Due to its special geographical environment, Yunnan is a disaster-prone region. In addition, old school buildings, poor management and other human factors lead to even more accidents and injuries among students. Disasters surround us and danger is ever present. All accidents and disasters have the potential to harm lives while simultaneously waste social resources, thus severely impeding socioeconomic development.

Most drills are incomplete

Unfortunately, worries of the experts and the oft-occurring accidents stand in stark contrast to inferior school crisis management.

In March 2006, the National Academy of Education surveyed 200 schools in different locations regarding the current state of their crisis management. More than half of the respondents said that inadequate laws and regulations pose the biggest challenge to crisis management in schools.

The government enacted a law in September 2002 to deal with student accidents, signaling the regulatory bodies' growing concern over the situation. However, the legislation had not been very effective, and the schools must rely on mediators and upper managers, rather than the law, to handle school crises.

As the experts at Yunnan Technical Association for Emergency Rescue pointed out, the problem arises because public emergency contingency plans fail to include schools as a research and discussion topic. As a result, the provincial educational administrations cannot categorize and manage campus crises, create appropriate mechanisms, or systematize and standardize crisis management.

"Undeniably, schools attach great importance to student safety, but they all neglect educating students in relevant issues. Most school have not even started work in safety-related education." Said Hou Zhaomin.

Hou Zhaomin notices the absence of disaster education in many places. Schools only pay lip-service to "Guidelines for Public Safety Education in Primary and Secondary Schools," often just doing an one-time exercise that can be shown off to the supervisors. There is no established system for disaster prevention and evacuation drills. Most teachers and students have not undergone professional, regular training or drills, so they lack relevant common knowledge in disaster preparedness and self-help. Many schools that have begun these drills treat them as a formality and only go as far as organizing the escape. Once disaster hits, even if it were a fire in broad daylight, panic and competition to escape cause a large number of unnecessary casualties.

Moreover, urban campuses are besieged by tall buildings and heavy traffic. There are not enough open areas where an exodus of people can go to in a short time. A majority can only stay on campus track fields, where the gathering of large crowds can pose new safety risks.

When commenting on the Kunming school earthquake drill, Hou Zhaomin believes that it should proceed in stages. Choose teachers and students to oversee different tasks so that when necessary, they can organize and direct evacuation. "Escape planning and professionalism are crucial. Drills are meant to train survival instincts. Only when people have the instincts in place can they escape."

Current safety management depends on announcements from above

Currently, each nation has established their own mode of crisis management according to their internal environment.

In U.S., almost every state has specialized organizations that conduct crisis management research, provide information to in-state policy-making bodies, compile citizen guides to disaster preparedness, and train disaster management personnel.

Japan spends a great deal of effort to raise survival awareness and improve survival skills among its students. Frequent earthquakes in the country has prompted the development of a fairly complete early warning system and effective public earthquake education. Each year students participate in drills. Beginning in kindergarten, children are taken to simulation devices where knowledge of escape and disaster prevention is inculcated in children at an early age. Near windows and doors of every house are mineral water, crackers, flashlights and first aid kits. Even the latest video games test for people's reaction under strong quakes.

Experts at Yunnan Technical Association for Emergency Rescue say that compared to those countries, crisis management in China mostly depends on notices and documents coming from above, on teachers' personal safety awareness and on their sense of responsibility. Necessary disaster prevention knowledge is lacking.

"In December 2009, a stampede inside one Hunan school points to the lack of disaster preparedness in most school officials, teachers, and students. Yet during May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake, some 2000 people were able to evacuate from Sangzao Middle school in just 1 minute and 36 seconds, creating a 0-casualty miracle. In the face of sudden catastrophe, unprepared schools will be far less able to protect lives as those which are ready."

During the third meeting of the Yunnan Tenth CPPCC session which convened in January this year, Geng Jia (耿嘉) and other Yunnan members of the CPPCC National Committee submitted a proposal to establish a school emergency rescue system and to improve crisis management. "Good habits of obeying safety rules can only be acquired through long-term scientific training." The proposal stated, "Because school safety directly affects students and teachers, and the safety of each concerns several families, it is a topic which the society deems important. Safety management and the ability of schools to respond during crises will have an impact on the credibility of schools and government, even impacting social stability."

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