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Disaster training: lessons learnt from the 2008 Sichuan China earthquake

01 June 2012
Volume 2 · Issue 2


Gaps in training have been identified from reviews of the experiences of prehospital medical personnel faced with previous disasters like the Sichuan earthquake in 2008. It would be useful to identify and develop standardised training and educational core competencies in pre-hospital disaster training adapted to the local situation and health system in China. This paper identified six areas of training needs for responders to enhance their effectiveness in disaster settings. Two levels of training for frontline first responders and disaster response managers may be the best approach to encompass the wide range of competencies expected to deal with disaster situations. Healthcare professionals globally have much to learn from the experiences and lessons of natural disasters in China.

The 12th of May was made national Disaster Prevention and Reduction Day in 2009, after the devastating earthquake that killed more than 80 000 people (Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), 2011). On the same day in 2009 the Chinese government published its first white paper on disaster prevention and reduction (Chinese Government's Official Web Portal, 2009). Establishing an emergency rescue and disaster relief response system and improving the quality of disaster relief personnel identified as ways to enhance the disaster reduction capability. This paper suggests six key areas in the disaster education for pre-hospital medical personnel in China based on the gaps identified from literature published from the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.

China is a country frequently affected by both natural and man-made disasters. For the last ten years, the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 and the Qinghai earthquake in 2010 accounted for the first and second largest death toll in China respectively (CRED, 2011). From a literature review of health impacts of earthquakes in China from 1906–2007 (Chan et al, 2010), it was found that earthquakes regularly affect the vast Tibetan plateau and southwest Yunnan province but were relatively rare in central China and along the eastern seaboard. There were a larger number of deaths found at the extremes of age, and poor anti-seismic capacity of buildings and high population density were the leading causes of death for lower and higher seismic earthquakes respectively. While earthquakes have caused the largest number of deaths, flooding has repeatedly claimed many lives especially in the years of 2002, 2003, 2007 and 2010 (CRED, 2011). Technological disasters like industrial accidents occurred frequently in provinces with high economic activities, with heavy industry like mine ores and coal extracts accounting for most number of deaths (Chan and Griffiths, 2010; Chan et al, 2011). Therefore it is of paramount importance that the pre-hospital first respondents are able to respond to these disasters in order to minimise the number of lives lost.

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