Mark Ghilarducci knows all too well the challenges facing the search and rescue efforts in Mexico following a 7.1 earthquake. As the Director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Ghilarducci oversees statewide public safety and emergency management and has responded to numerous earthquakes and disasters around the world. He has served in both command and technical advisory positions at many high profile events, including the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the 1995 Kobe, Japan earthquake and the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
“Clearly this is a catastrophic event,” Ghilarducci said, when describing the Mexico earthquake. “The scale and the size of the impact of this event makes it very challenging for the rescuers.”
Ghilarducci says one of the biggest concerns facing search and rescue workers will be the threat of aftershocks. “These situations are very challenging for rescuers because you’ve got all this concrete debris. The way that the buildings collapse creates the potential, with aftershocks, for a secondary collapse. It’s going to be very important for these rescue folks to first of all try to pinpoint where victims may be located and build a strategy by which they’re going to go in and shore up the building or the area that they’re working so that if there is an aftershock or secondary collapse, it doesn’t injure rescuers. In essence, deconstruct that building to get in to where those victims are located.”
“Mexico City sits in a bowl,” Ghilarducci continued. “It’s just the way the geography is. Those aftershocks can be much stronger and they can have a greater effect on not only just the buildings that are already collapsed, where they’re doing rescue operations, but may result in new collapses in the area. There’s a lot of people out rescuing. There’s citizen volunteers. There’s a lot of resources there. They need to be very careful about the potential of other collapses that are going on in the area which would result in more injuries.”
Ghilarducci says it’s not uncommon to see people rescued alive even after being trapped for several days. “We have seen rescues in previous cases, up to three weeks, live rescues that have been made. We’ve seen it in earthquakes like in Haiti and in other parts of the country. Even here in California we’ve had earthquakes where we’ve actually been able to rescue people up to a week after they’ve been trapped. This is really important. You have to understand that when buildings collapse they create what’s called a void space. These are livable spaces or survivable spaces and you need to do due diligence and you need to be able to get and do as much search operations, using search dogs, using other kinds of technologies to be able to try and clear buildings. The window can be, depending on the number of people and the type of structure, can be several weeks before we can say that search and rescue operations would be concluded.”