Modern University for Business and Science
Department of Public Health
Prepared by: Diala Syagha
Quake-Ready Lebanon? Tips and Tricks for Emergency Preparedness in Lebanon
Earthquakes have no geographic borders. They have a significant impact on the affected regions, resulting in extensive damage and loss of life. Throughout history, we heard of many famous global earthquakes. For example, the Great East Japan Earthquake, also known as the Tohoku earthquake, struck Japan in 2011 with a magnitude of 9.0. It triggered a massive tsunami that caused widespread devastation, resulting in thousands of fatalities and significant damage to nuclear power plants. Another example, the Sumatra-Andaman earthquake in 2004, with a magnitude of 9.1-9.3, generated a massive tsunami that affected countries across the Indian Ocean. It led to a significant loss of life and extensive destruction. Also, the Valdivia earthquake in 1960, with a magnitude of 9.5, was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded. It caused widespread damage in Chile, triggered tsunamis, and resulted in numerous casualties. These earthquakes serve as reminders of the devastating impact that seismic events can have on communities and the importance of preparedness and mitigation measures.
Lebanon is situated in a seismically active region due to its location along the boundary between the Arabian and African plates (Zare, 2023). This tectonic setting has led to a history of significant earthquakes in the country. Examples include the 1759 Beirut earthquake, the 1202 Sidon (Saida) earthquake, and the 1956 Amchit earthquake, which caused significant damage and loss of life. 195 earthquakes with a magnitude of four or higher have occurred within 300 kilometers (186mi) of Lebanon This amounts to an average of 19 earthquakes per year, or 1 each month.
Historically, emergency preparedness for earthquakes in Lebanon is inadequate, and the government has not yet implemented effective measures to mitigate the potential impact of earthquakes.
This research aims to identify the current challenges faced by Lebanon in preparing for earthquakes and to propose strategies and recommendations to improve the country’s emergency preparedness.
Lebanon and Earthquake Preparedness in the Literature
Emergency preparedness in Lebanon is a critical issue given the country’s history of conflicts and natural disasters. A study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2013 (Al Haj, 2020) examined the emergency preparedness of hospitals in Lebanon. The study found that while most hospitals had emergency plans in place, they were not adequately prepared to handle major emergency situations due to a lack of resources and training. The study recommended that hospitals invest more in emergency preparedness and improve collaboration with other organizations. Another study conducted in 2013 by the Lebanese Red Cross found that most Lebanese households were not adequately prepared for emergencies, with only 5% having an emergency kit prepared. The study identified several barriers to emergency preparedness, including a lack of awareness about the importance of preparedness, limited access to emergency information, and a lack of resources to prepare.
In terms of natural disasters, Lebanon is particularly susceptible to earthquakes. A study by geologists at AUB in 2018 examined the seismic hazard and risk in Lebanon and found that many buildings in the country are not designed to withstand earthquakes. The study recommended that Lebanon invest in seismic retrofitting of buildings and develop emergency management plans in case of an earthquake.
The Lebanese government has taken steps to improve emergency preparedness. In 2012, the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities developed a national disaster management plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities of different government agencies in case of a disaster. However, the implementation of this plan has been slow due to political instability and limited resources.
Overall, these studies highlight the need for increased investment in emergency preparedness in Lebanon, particularly for hospitals and households. It also emphasizes the importance of collaboration between government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the public to improve emergency preparedness and response. However, the studies on this topic are limited and often focus on specific incidents rather than overall emergency preparedness.
Given the limited findings of the studies before, this study aims to answer the following question: What is the current state of earthquake emergency preparedness in Lebanon, and what are the areas that need improvement?
The research used a qualitative approach, involving 7 formal semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders involved in emergency preparedness in Lebanon, such as government officials, NGOs, and community leaders to determine the status of emergency preparedness and ways of improvement. In addition, other individuals from the civil society were interviewed to give real examples to know to what extent the society is prepared to earthquakes. The interviews explored the current state of emergency preparedness in Lebanon, including strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. The interviews also explored the challenges and opportunities for improving emergency preparedness in Lebanon.
The chosen method was selected because it allows for a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the current state of emergency preparedness in Lebanon. By interviewing key stakeholders involved in emergency preparedness and the people from civil society, the research was able to identify both the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, as well as the opportunities and challenges for improving it.
The research was conducted over a period of 2 months. The first month was dedicated to developing the interview questions and obtaining ethical approval for the study and to identify and recruit participants for the study. The second month was used to conduct the interviews, analyze data and write the report.
- Enhancing Emergency Preparedness in Lebanon: A Seismologist’s Perspective:
“Earthquakes are inevitable, but the damage they bring depends on how well we are prepared.” as a seismologist specializing in emergency management and also a Professor at American University Beirut, Tony Nemer said and addressed the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system, the pressing areas for improvement, the role of communities and organizations, and the resources required to enhance emergency preparedness.
The current measures in place for earthquake preparedness in Lebanon encompass seismic hazard assessment, implementation of building codes, seismic monitoring networks, and public awareness campaigns. Building codes contribute to improved structural resilience, while seismic monitoring networks enable real-time monitoring of seismic activity. “The best ways to minimize the impact of earthquakes is through awareness, preparedness and education.” Prof. Tony Nemer said.
However, the current system also faces challenges. Limited financial resources, competing priorities for infrastructure development, and inadequate enforcement of building codes hinder progress in earthquake preparedness. Additionally, addressing public apathy, ensuring coordination among stakeholders, and overcoming communication barriers pose significant challenges.
Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for enhancing emergency preparedness in Lebanon. Technological advancements can be leveraged to develop early warning systems, which provide vital seconds to minutes of advance notice before an earthquake strikes. Integrating earthquake preparedness into urban planning processes allows for the incorporation of seismic resilience considerations in infrastructure development projects.
Community engagement plays a critical role in emergency preparedness efforts. By conducting targeted outreach programs, organizing community drills, and establishing neighborhood emergency response teams, communities can actively participate in preparedness activities. Involving community leaders and organizations in the planning and decision-making processes fosters a sense of ownership and promotes localized initiatives.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other organizations have a significant role to play in improving emergency preparedness. They can provide expertise, resources, and funding for infrastructure improvements, community engagement programs, and public awareness campaigns. Collaborative partnerships between NGOs, government agencies, academia, and the private sector facilitate coordination, knowledge sharing, and the implementation of innovative solutions.
To improve emergency preparedness, several pressing areas require attention. Enhancing infrastructure resilience through retrofitting and enforcing building codes is crucial. Public education and awareness programs should be strengthened to ensure that individuals understand earthquake risks and know how to respond effectively. Coordinating efforts among government agencies, researchers, and the public, and establishing robust communication channels are essential.
Addressing these areas of improvement requires adequate resources. Financial investments are necessary for infrastructure retrofitting, technology for early warning systems, research and development for hazard assessment, and training programs for emergency responders. Additionally, the development of educational materials for public awareness campaigns and the establishment of reliable communication systems are vital. “Don’t wait until it’s too late to prepare for an earthquake. The time to act is now” Prof. Tony said.
- Perspectives on Earthquake Preparedness: Insights from the Civil Society
Earthquakes affect people no matter of their country of origin. One of the respondents, Sarah Waheb, from Lebanon, traveled to Turkey on vacation and she experienced the earthquake happened lately. In a state of panic, Sarah quickly took cover under a sturdy table, trying to protect herself from falling debris. The shaking seemed to last an eternity, but in reality, it was only a few minutes. Once it finally stopped, Sarah cautiously emerged from her hiding spot to find her home in shambles. Sarah continued: “The walls had cracked, furniture was overturned, and cherished belongings lay scattered across the floor. I felt a mix of relief and fear and I was relieved to have made it through the earthquake alive, but I was also scared about what the future held”.
More than 10 individuals from civil society were interviewed and gave their viewpoints regarding earthquake preparedness and shared their experience in the last earthquake happened in Turkey-Lebanon area. Drawing on their experiences and perceptions, the following sections address their familiarity with emergency response plans, personal encounters with earthquakes, preparedness measures taken, knowledge of safety procedures, specific concerns or challenges faced, received training or information, suggestions for community preparedness, evaluation of government efforts, the role of the community in preparedness and response, and other natural disasters of concern. “The ground shook so violently, I thought the world was going to split open.” – Joclyne, earthquake survivor.
The level of familiarity with the community’s emergency response plan varies among individuals. While some are well-informed and actively engaged, others may lack awareness or have limited knowledge. Clear communication and dissemination of information about the plan are crucial to ensure that community members are familiar with the necessary actions to be taken in the event of an earthquake.
Personal experiences of earthquakes within the community also vary. Some individuals may have directly encountered earthquakes and can provide insights into the impact and aftermath of such events. These experiences highlight the importance of preparedness measures and reinforce the need for ongoing community readiness.
The presence of an emergency kit is a key preparedness factor. Some individuals have prepared kits that include essential items such as water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, flashlights, and blankets. These kits serve as a vital resource during an earthquake, enabling individuals to sustain themselves until help arrives.
Knowledge of safety procedures and designated safe areas is essential in the event of an earthquake. Some individuals possess a well-defined plan, including actions to take and safe locations to seek shelter. Such plans contribute to personal safety and facilitate a coordinated community response.
Specific concerns or challenges faced by individuals or communities during earthquakes vary. Language barriers, mobility issues, or lack of accessibility to resources can hinder effective response and exacerbate vulnerabilities. Addressing these concerns is crucial to ensure inclusivity and equal access to emergency preparedness measures.
The provision of training and information plays a critical role in enhancing earthquake preparedness. Individuals who have received training or relevant information express appreciation for the knowledge gained. Such initiatives should continue to be offered and expanded, reaching a wider audience to empower community members with necessary skills and awareness.
To better prepare the community for earthquakes, several suggestions are put forth. These include increased public awareness campaigns, regular drills and exercises, improved infrastructure resilience, fostering community cohesion and engagement, and collaboration between various stakeholders, including government agencies, NGOs, and community-based organizations.
The evaluation of local government efforts varies among individuals. While some acknowledge the efforts made to educate and prepare the community for earthquakes, others believe that additional measures should be taken. Suggestions include strengthening public outreach, enhancing communication channels, and providing more comprehensive and accessible educational resources.
The community’s role in earthquake preparedness and response is deemed crucial by individuals. Active community engagement, collective responsibility, and the formation of community-based organizations and networks are emphasized. Communities should actively participate in preparedness initiatives, share knowledge, support vulnerable members, and collaborate with local authorities.
In addition to earthquakes, there is recognition that communities should also be prepared for other natural disasters. The potential impact of events such as floods, wildfires, and storms are acknowledged. Comprehensive disaster preparedness plans that encompass multiple hazards are advocated, ensuring a holistic approach to community resilience.
Experiencing the Turkey earthquake was a traumatic event that was said by Nancy Al Safadi, one of the interviewees from the civil society, leading to emotional distress and psychological effects. Fear, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression were experienced as a result of the earthquake. The emotional impact can persist long after the physical damage has been addressed. “It’s a humbling experience to witness the sheer force of nature during an earthquake.” Riham said.
In conclusion, improving emergency preparedness in Lebanon is a complex task. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the existing system, identifying opportunities for improvement, and addressing the pressing areas of concern will contribute to a more resilient society. Engaging communities, collaborating with NGOs and other organizations, and allocating the necessary resources are vital steps toward enhancing earthquake preparedness and reducing the potential impact of seismic events in Lebanon. Right now, Lebanon is on the right track to some extent by the efforts done by universities by adding courses such as disasters management and non-governmental hospitals and NGOs that are making awareness sessions and prepare their teams in case of an emergency.
The perspectives shared by individuals from civil society shed light on various aspects of earthquake preparedness. From personal experiences to suggestions for improvement, their insights underscore the importance of community engagement, effective communication, and inclusive planning. Strengthening partnerships between communities, local governments, and other stakeholders can enhance earthquake preparedness efforts, enabling communities to be more resilient in the face of seismic events and other natural disasters.
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