Building collapse is a common phenomenon associated with multiple disasters, including those caused by so-called “natural hazards” such as earthquakes and tsunamis and landslides, as well as “technological hazards” such as sub-standard construction and maintenance practices, and conflict.
Worldwide, over the past 5o years there have been 181 building collapse disasters reported in 51 nations. 32 of these events occurred in India. Four more nations comprise a second tier of incidence, including China (13), Egypt (13), Brazil (12), Nigeria (12).
The deadliest building collapse disaster occurred during 2013 in Bangladesh when an 8-story commercial building collapsed killing 1,127 occupants.
An average of 8 building collapse disasters occur every year worldwide, resulting in 343 deaths/year. Each event killed an average of 38 persons. In comparison, the June 2021 Surfside, FL building collapse is currently estimated to have killed 10 persons with 151 more missing – four times larger than the world average for the past 50 years.
The nations of Columbia, Haiti, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan, Morocco and Singapore make up a second tier of countries reporting a moderately high mortality rate (ranging in the 40’s/100,000).
Deaths from these disasters typically arise from three main causes: structural collapse, non-structural causes and follow-on disasters (such as fires and flooding). Our predictions of the number of casualties to expect for building collapse are based upon five key factors:
- The number of people per building
- The more people, the higher the fatality rate
- Occupancy at the time of event
- Homes have higher occupancy rates at night, whereas in the daytime it’s commercial settings
- Occupants trapped by collapse
- The likelihood of survival once entrapped by debris drops remarkably after 24-36 hours
- Distribution of injuries at the time of collapse
- Reinforced concrete buildings cause more deaths than masonry or wood
- Time until rescue
- The chance of survival drops significantly after 24 hours
If there is anything that we can learn from building collapse disasters, it is that most deaths occur within minutes, not days. Sadly, search and rescue is most often too little, too late.
Prevention is the only effective means for addressing the health impacts of building collapse disasters.