Back to classroom for earthquake preparedness

Nepal must use its schools to improve disaster response to save lives in future disasters

Nearly 9,000 people were killed and three times as many were injured in the 25 April 2015 earthquake. Over 750,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including 8,000 schools and 30,000 classrooms.

Many thousands of lives of children were saved because the quake struck at noon on a Saturday, when schools were closed and many people were not at home.

Eight years later, the physical scars of the 2015 earthquake are still visible in Kathmandu Valley and surrounding district towns. Residential buildings are still being reconstructed, monuments are in scaffolding, and there are abandoned structures. 

Read also: In a disastrous state, Sonia Awale

Even if many of the buildings and school infrastructure wait to be reinforced, and building codes implemented, one of the best outcomes has been in disaster education.

Nepal’s schools have been involved in training search and rescue (SAR) volunteers, spreading earthquake response awareness in primary school classrooms. Proper disaster education helps everyone: children and older generations alike.

The National Society for Earthquake Technology, Nepal (NSET) creates and distributes earthquake education materials every year as part of its Earthquake Safety Day Campaign on 15 January every year, the day that commemorates the 8.3 magnitude earthquake in 1934 that destroyed much of Kathmandu. 

Read also: Earthquake vacates villages in Nepal

Over the past several years NSET has conducted disaster response campaigns around Nepal focusing on strengthening community-based response in subjects like search and rescue, and rapid seismic damage assessment – all with the goal of building capacity at the community-level for disaster response.

In the 2015 Gorkha earthquake alone, of the 22,326 rescued alive, approximately 17,887 were saved at the community and individual level. National search and rescue teams as well as international agencies also played their part. The Armed Police Force and other security agencies rescued over 4,420 lives and international SAR teams rescued 19. These rescues were often in situations that were inaccessible to community members – primarily those trapped in the rubble of collapsed concrete structures.

Read also: Lessons Unlearnt, Editorial

Disaster education can exist at the grassroots level as well. Most recently, third- and fourth-year civil engineering students from Institute of Engineering (IoE), in Pulchok began conducting training seminars for students and teachers at government secondary schools around Kathmandu.

Young Nepali engineers designed pamphlets and posters which they delivered and explained to students and teachers, even providing tools from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) for Nepal’s hard-of-hearing and deaf communities to improve accessibility since disaster impacts everyone.

The students leveraged their backgrounds in engineering to explain the physics of an earthquake, as well as concrete action to mitigating risk and earthquake response. They created interactive games to quiz grade school students on what they had learned – tailoring their speech and lessons to younger audiences. 

Read also: Preserving Patan post-earthquake

Free training for educators on how to make their classrooms more earthquake-safe were also conducted, as well as providing tips on how to talk to younger generations about disaster risk, especially for students who may not remember the 2015 earthquake.

“It is important to educate young people about earthquake preparedness,” says Sagar Khanal, a fourth year engineering student. “There was positive feedback from students and teachers and it showed it was useful. This experience has strengthened our resolve to make a positive impact in our community”.

From the achievements of larger organisations like NSET to a more grassroots approach by the next-generation of engineers and everything in between, the disaster education experience in Nepal has been positive. 

Read also: Turkey and Nepal face similar seismic risks, Surya Narayan Shrestha

Rachael Lau


Rachael Lau is a Fulbright Research Fellow based in Kathmandu and is a third-year PhD Candidate in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University focused in geohazard disaster modeling and response.