To panic or not – a matter of perspective

During the March 11 earthquake in Japan, foreigners who had dashed out of the stairs in panic marveled at the calm way the Japanese people strode down in perfect order and self-control. On 18 September it was the turn of many Japanese living in Bhutan to  marvel at the utter panic among the Bhutanese.The Bhutanese it seems, did everything they should not during a quake. There was a lot of panic. A lot of shouting and screaming, and yes everybody made a wild dash for the nearest door. Anybody in the way was simply elbowed out. At the hospital a fleeing nurse seems to had a moment of sanity as she pondered over assisting the bedridden patients, as she fled. A moment that quickly passed.

Disaster experts will tell you, do not panic. Do not run around as you can fall and injure yourself. It is usually not possible to stand steadily in larger quakes. Certainly don’t run down the stairs as falling there will be even more dangerous. Get under a table and protect yourself from falling debris until the vibrations subside and then make a quick and calm exit with something firm to protect you over your head.

But who should we emulate? The calm Japanese standing under a door lintel or a madly panicked Bhutanese? I guess it depends. When the 9.0 quake hit Japan just 70km from the coast, few if any buildings collapsed. Most of the damage came from the subsequent tsunami. So I would have the confidence to be calm and collected if I was in Japan. In Bhutan however, all bets are off. If you’re living in the attic of a building constructed by penny pinching Ap Dorji and his illiterate thikadar from a remote village in Bomgaigaon in 1977, before Bhutan even heard of earthquake codes, my advice to the Japanese will be to discard your dignity and immediately start panicking…


Earthquakes surrounding Bhutan since 1990
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