Improving hospital earthquake safety in India

Since 2008, Swiss Re has partnered with California-based non-profit organization GeoHazards International (GHI) and its New Delhi sister organization, GeoHazards Society (GHS), on an innovative campaign to improve hospital earthquake safety in India. India has 22 states, located primarily in the north and northeast along the Himalayas, whose populations face high levels of earthquake risk. Hospitals in these areas are vulnerable to earthquake damage and at risk of losing their ability to function just when the community needs them most.

Swiss Re is helping hospitals to mitigate their earthquake risks through this unique multi-year corporate responsibility programme; it is the first safety campaign to reach out to hospitals in all Indian states facing high or severe earthquake hazard. Partners GHI and GHS share responsibility for executing campaign activities, such as developing a hospital earthquake safety manual and related set of training materials, conducting an outreach campaign, and leading free training workshops and implementation activities in select hospitals. This article outlines the key accomplishments and next steps of the Swiss Re/GHI/GHS hospital earthquake safety campaign in India.

Awareness-raising workshop in Delhi

Swiss Re’s partnership with GHI to improve hospital earthquake safety in India began with a workshop in 2008, entitled Integrating Earthquake Risk Mitigation into Hospital Facilities Planning and held in cooperation with the Delhi Disaster Management Authority. The workshop attracted more than 150 healthcare stakeholders from medical institutions in and around Delhi. This clear, widespread interest convinced both Swiss Re and GHI of the need to broaden their efforts to include all earthquake-prone areas in India.

Hospital earthquake safety manual

As a next step, with Swiss Re’s support, GHI and GHS developed a manual entitled Reducing Earthquake Risk in Hospitals from Equipment, Contents, Architectural Elements and Building Utility Systems. This detailed but easy-to-use manual describes how to: determine a hospital’s earthquake risk; identify items that could fall or topple and injure people; anchor and brace those items; and prioritise actions to reduce risk. Reviewed by experts in hospital operations, structural engineering, and risk education from around the world, the manual fills an important gap in the hospital earthquake preparedness information available in India. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) of the Government of India printed the manual, and the national Minister of Health released it to the public at an NDMA function. To support the manual’s launch, GHI/GHS conducted a direct mail campaign targeting more than 800 hospitals in zones of high to very high seismic hazard; the campaign encouraged hospital staff either to download a PDF version or to request a free hard copy of the manual. To date, the manual has been downloaded more than 10,000 times, and over 500 hard copies have been distributed. 

Training courses for hospital staff

GHI and GHS are currently working to implement the manual's guidance in hospitals in locations with high seismic hazard. To do this, GHI, with funding from Swiss Re, has developed training materials for doctors, nurses, and maintenance/facilities personnel. The training materials include presentations, videos, interactive exercises, instructor guides, and student guides. These materials allow GHI and others to efficiently teach the manual’s material and other key information in hospitals.

At Moolchand Hospital, a 400-bed private hospital in Delhi, GHI used the training materials to train permanent staff members, including doctors and nurses on 10 September 2011. The hospital administration noted that the training filled a gap in its preparedness efforts: previously, the staff had been largely unaware of the earthquake risk that it faced and the actions that could be taken to reduce it, especially those relating to protecting equipment and systems that help the hospital remain functional after an earthquake.

In the coming weeks, GHI will begin working in a second hospital, Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital, a 250-bed government hospital in Delhi. Also, NDMA has requested that GHI conduct training programmes and implement the manual’s risk mitigation measures in two major hospitals in Delhi that can serve as models: the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and the Jai Prakash Narayan Apex Trauma Center of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.


Hospital safety workshops with World Health Organization India

After attending a training session at Moolchand Hospital, a representative of the World Health Organization’s India office asked GHS to help organise a series of Safe Hospitals workshops to improve safety in five Indian cities located in areas of moderate to very high seismic hazard. At the workshops, GHS used a concise version of the GHI-Swiss Re training materials to sensitise 251 people. In light of the success of the workshops, WHO India wants to conduct further activities using the GHI-Swiss RE training materials. With funding from Swiss Re, GHI and GHS also plan to offer two short workshops that will utilise the first group of hospitals as examples to show other hospital administrators how to improve their hospitals’ safety and post-earthquake functionality.

Published March 2012

Photo credits: GeoHazards International