Why Predicting Earthquakes is a Dangerous Idea

Note: This article is published in the Oct 2008 issue of Disaster Recovery Journal and should NOT be reproduced elsewhere without written permission from www.drj.com.

Whenever there is a major natural disaster like an earthquake, cyclone, tsunami, etc., which kills thousands of people and destroys countless properties the first question everyone asks is why our scientists canít predict them well in advance. After all if they can put a man on the moon surely it must be possible to invent some scientific equipment that can predict an earthquake in advance. If such a device is available then it is obviously very easy to save lives and property as everyone can take the necessary precautions. Simple natural arguments echoed by the common man, media, politicians, bloggers, talk shows, businesses, armchair commandos, etc. This is why disaster recovery and business continuity experts inside and outside the corporate world are always under pressure to come up with innovative ideas on how to be prepared for earthquakes. Well, the good news is there are some special scientific equipments that can predict natural disasters based on atmospheric changes, satellite pictures, etc., though it is not sure whether they can always give pinpointed predictions. Now your next question would be is if such equipment is available (even if not fully accurate) why does the government or a disaster prevention agency not inform people in advance so that everyone can run away to safety? However, ignoring the reasons why it is not informed to everyone for the moment, just think again. Is it really possible to save lives and property even with such accurate advance information? Unfortunately the answer is a big NO. In fact an advance prediction of any major natural disaster like an earthquake will let loose another kind of man made disaster that can actually cause more damage than the impending natural disaster. To understand how just imagine any densely populated city in any country containing a few million citizens. Next imagine a situation where some reliable agency predicts a guaranteed major quake that will hit the city in the next few hours, and blasts the warning through mails, text messages, radio, TV, public address system, etc. Now imagine what will happen next. As soon as the initial shock is absorbed, the very next thing everyone will do is think of ways to scoot to safety with their belongings and loved ones. Within minutes you can expect the following horror unfolding all around.

1. Financial chaos: Thousands of people will flock to banks, financial institutions and insurance agencies to withdraw all their cash, valuables, deposits and other things they may have deposited there. This is because there is no guarantee that if and when you come back your house and bank building will still be intact. Besides how many buildings are truly earthquake proof? The most important thing required after a disaster is always hard cash. You can't go around with a credit card in a disaster hit area to buy food and water. However, no bank or financial institution will be able to manage such an abrupt withdrawal demand from all customers in addition to looking after their own safety. This is of course assuming their systems are capable of handling a mad rush of customers and clients.  

2. Transport chaos: As soon as the news is made public everyone will leave their workplaces and start rushing home to their near and dear ones. Very soon everyone will also start leaving the city using every available means of transport. And that will mean roads, trains and planes will be choked everywhere leading to fist cuffs in desperation to get to somewhere safer. Vicious fights will start everywhere for fuel, bus tickets, train tickets, etc. It will be a rush hour of gigantic proportions. Next imagine situations where you have to evacuate thousands of patients lodged in hospitals, care centers, elder care homes, offices, factories, schools, sports stadiums, tree houses, jails, and every other place. Can you imagine the kind of Herculean transport arrangements, medical arrangements, food and other logistics that need to be done to take them to safety? And imagine how many children, family members, tourists and even pets can get lost and separated in the melee.  

3. Rioting: Once panic sets in mob hysteria will take over, and no one can be controlled. Soon rampant looting and arson will start on the streets as people will start stealing and hoarding whatever is available, not to mention influential people and toughies who will make their own rules during such a crisis. And in third world countries that have a large population of uneducated people controlling frenzied mobs is almost impossible. It soon becomes a case of survival or escape of the fittest situation. When millions of people take to the streets no police or military can control the mob fury. And this is assuming the police and other agencies will ignore their own safety and remain standing around to help civilians, which is highly unlikely. There will be a total breakdown of law and order within hours. And no amount of education or advice can keep people calm and rational when the doomsday time approaches nearer. Just imagine your own panic if you know that a major earthquake will hit your city in the next two to six hours. So where do you go and what can you really do in that limited time?

The above are some of the advance disasters that will happen well before the actual disaster strikes. And in all probability the actual disaster may cause less damage than the havoc created by peopleís panic because of advance information. No doubt many lives can be saved because people can come out of buildings so that ceilings and pillars will not crash on them, but the civilian disorder generated will be almost a similar or a worse nightmare to a sudden earthquake. Secondly the timing of the information is also important because if it happens on holidays or late in the night there can be additional chaos. Hence, instead of getting prior information and completely ruining a city you are better off not knowing when an earthquake will hit. Maybe ignorance is bliss in such matters. Finally we can conclude this article with an apt quote from Alfred Hitchcock who said, "There is no terror in the bang, it is only in anticipation of it."

Article Author - Thejendra B.S

Web Cave - www.thejendra.com