Disaster prep saves lives

Kali Katerberg/Daily Mining Gazette Brian Tucker, founder of GeoHazards International, speaks with Michigan Tech freshman about death prevention in natural disasters.

HOUGHTON — When a natural disaster occurs, the global community responds with aid and resources, but what about before the disaster happens?

One global nonprofit focuses on preparation in some of the most vulnerable areas of the world before the disaster strikes. GeoHazards International is one of the few organizations focusing on this need.

On Thursday, freshmen engineering students at Michigan Tech heard founder Brian Tucker share the organization’s mission.

Tucker realized there was a need after a couple of magnitude-7 earthquakes — one striking Armenia in 1988 and the other in California almost a year later.

In Armenia 40,000 died. In California that number was 62.

“It’s just wrenching to an earth scientist trying to do something about earthquakes,” Tucker said.

At that point, he said, he set out “to end preventable death and suffering.”

In developed countries like the United States and Japan, preventative technologies are incorporated into designs and part of everyday life.

However, many developing countries don’t have access to that knowledge, while having higher vulnerable populations and less-quality construction.

Not only that, the risks to these countries are getting worse as their populations grow, which is often a problem that goes unaddressed.

“Ninety-six percent of the amount of money that the world spends on natural disasters is spent on response, recovery and reconstruction,” Tucker said.

In preventative work, only about 4 percent of the world’s investment is applied despite having more of an impact.

Since its founding, GeoHazards International has worked in more than 40 communities and 20 countries, improving structure safety and creating life-saving solutions.

For example, in Kathmandu, Nepal, they began introducing local builders to methods to reinforce structures and build them to resist collapse during earthquakes.

Slowly these methods began to work their way into the local infrastructure. During a 2015 earthquake, many of the improved structures survived.

In some locations the focus has been on preventing loss of life through emergency shelters or reinforced desks for students to shelter under.

By preparing these communities and teaching locals, thousands of deaths are being prevented, Tucker said.