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Would You Take Cover or Run?

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

A swarm of small earthquakes has recently rattled Anse-à-Veau, on Haiti's southern peninsula, and everyone has the jitters. Unscathed by the 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti's capital, they fear their own disaster.

Two years ago, most residents believed "nothing can be done to protect yourself from harm during an earthquake." A local committee, organized and aided by GHI's Haitian staff, changed that thinking. USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance supported the project.

Using a process we had developed, the committee designed simple safety messages, based on science and evidence, for common Anse-à-Veau situations.

Children feared their school would collapse. During mild tremors, some jumped out of second-story windows or stampeded. Photo: GHI

Because building collapses are often fatal, constructing buildings that won't collapse is the way to truly reduce earthquake deaths. But furnishings or building pieces can fall and harm, too, and some buildings are safer than others.

Is it better take cover or run outside? With just seconds to act, knowing what to do--and why--can prevent injuries and save lives.

The team counted leaders from schools, the hospital, the mayor's office, church, the fishing association, Red Cross, Haiti Civil Protection, a women's group, an NGO for people with special needs, and Haiti's ID agency. A local journalist and high school student also took part.

Mme Seide Dely, 95, with Gefthé Dévilmé, GHI's Anse-à-Veau Field Officer. She discussed an earthquake, floods and hurricanes she survived over her years, while 3 of her homes did not. Photo: GHI

From a structural engineer, committee members learned why heavy roofs are bad in earthquakes and why masonry can be lethal. They pressed for details about how to make homes safer, as many residents build their own.

A big earthquake offshore could send a tsunami into Anse-à-Veau, though this hasn’t happened in the lifetime of most residents. Few knew that heavy shaking is a warning to head for high ground, or that the two threats are connected.

To prepare for medical demands, Dr. Garmalia Mentor-William, our Representative in Haiti, trained first responders in post-traumatic stress disorders. Residents learned first aid and basic life support.

Through the project, people who fish learned to spot a tsunami: a roar from the sea; fish stranded as water recedes; the sea rising fast. Photo: Michelle Meyer.

After diving deep, committee members figured that every person in Anse-à-Veau would benefit from knowing more about earthquakes. So they visited door-to-door! They also spoke at schools and churches. Students later performed safety-themed sketches, songs, and poetry.

A sound truck, winding through streets, broadcast what to do if near an exit, on a second floor, or outdoors when the earth shakes. The messages speak to schoolchildren, people in the city, and people near the sea. These are told by women and children with local accents. One is by and for someone with a disability.

The radio station now airs the recordings as a public service.

The committee trained high schoolers, with GHI's Géthé (front right), Garmalia (standing, 3rd from right), and Haitian geologic engineer Claude Prépetit (row 2, standing 3rd from left). Photo: GHI

The result? Everyone is talking--about their earthquake fears as well as their strategies. Stay tuned. This story doesn't end, thank goodness. Our work continues in Anse-à-Veau, and you are part of that too.

P.S.: With your help, we matched (and more) the WeCare 2018 challenge grant from corporate friends! Your gift strengthens vulnerable communities, like Anse-a-Veau, before a disaster strikes.


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