Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Risk Impacts Of The Earthquake In Sichuan Province, China – Part 1

First off, I hope that they find survivors under the collapsed school. While it is always sad to get news of such major natural disaster, as a risk manager, the focus is firmly on the risk factors arising from the disaster and what corrective actions can be taken to minimize the losses – both human and material – from these risk factors and to plan accordingly for secondary risk factors that typically comes with a major disaster.

Human Risk Factors
Food & Water Shortage: As with any major disaster, electricity into the affected is temporarily disrupted due to downed power lines or deliberate cut off of power to prevent accidental deaths during search and rescue. With the loss of electricity, the potential for food spoilage increases as refrigerators and freezers thaw. Furthermore, regular supply of food and portable water is cut off or reduced substantially as the access into and out of the affected area is restricted to military, government, and fire / life safety personnel first and then for critical medical and search & rescue supplies.

While we have not yet heard any news of food shortage, I expect that food and portable water shortage will filter out into mainstream media shortly.

Medical Shortage: With so many traumatic injuries occurring all at once, it is difficult for medical personnel to do anything more at this time than basic triage: prioritize the wounded by severity and life-threat condition and treat the most severely wounded first. Additionally, the local hospitals would be swamped with sudden influx of patients that they would have to begin releasing patients early and begin transporting others to other hospitals in surrounding areas. Further complicating this is the news of a hospital collapse 45 miles north of Chengdu, in Dujiangyan. Given these set of conditions, it is highly probable that more people will die from secondary infection or from long delay in obtaining adequate medical care.

Sanitation Risk: Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan, has a population of 11 million people. The damaging earthquake has forced some of the 11 million residents to leave the city or to vacate damaged buildings. As people vacate damaged buildings, they will be forced to fend for themselves in makeshift tents, cars, or large enclosed public spaces, such as an auditorium. With so many displaced people, there is increased risk of more garbage and human waste in the street, which when combined with mounds of garbage and earthquake debris would make a fertile ground for serious sanitary risks.

Until the affected areas are cleaned up, disinfected, and more public toilets made available, there will be news of people suffering from multitude of bacterial and viral infections due to overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions.

Ed Kim
Practical Risk Manager

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