Home     Polling Data     Kobe Statistics     Surprise !     Project History     References     Supporters     Founder  

The Green Bar Project:
for improved earthquake preparedness in Japan

We focus on a bright Green Bar, seeking to reduce earthquake deaths.

The Green Bar is a reformed high-carbon iron bar, 150cm long, 2.5cm diameter, to be mounted horizontally low on walls in neighborhoods throughout Japan. In an emergency the Green Bar is used by survivors as a lever, a tool to rescue trapped people.

Estimated cost per unit is ¥3000 (about €25 or US$35) not including installation.

Green Bar has five goals:
1) Warning
2) Teaching
3) Equipping
4) Reminding
----- and when earthquake hits:
5) Saving

The Green Bar is first a constant reminder to everyone that disaster may strike anytime. Seeing the Green Bar draws attention to threat of burial in a collapsed building. Green Bar is reminder of those killed in the Kobe earthquake (of whom 400+ were trapped alive and died from fires). The Green Bar will inspire some people to reinforce and prepare their homes; others will seek training in first aid & rescue. Ultimately, the Green Bar is a highly important rescue tool when disaster strikes.


A Continued Deadly Gap: The 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake centered near Kobe caused tremendous devastation in infra-structural services, government, local housing, major industries & small business. The most severe problem, however, was an irrevocable loss of life: approximately 6500 people were killed, mainly from among the 20,000 people caught inside collapsed buildings. More than 10,000 of the trapped were rescued by neighbors and family, while hundreds perished who could have survived. The Kobe disaster highlights a deadly problem that has not gone away; in fact, Japan's lack of preparedness is growing. In a large-scale disaster many buildings can be expected to collapse; public services will only reach a small number of people in the critical first hours; yet the general public remains ill-equipped to help themselves and untrained to help others. Japan is now undergoing numerous reforms, with the government sweeping aside maladaptive paternalism. The grim danger should be confronted. People are best served by public services teaching a stark fact: major earthquakes require personal survival skills and equipment. The Green Bar program is a new public education advocacy project that promotes installation of conspicuous rescue tools and focuses attention on self-reliance in the immediate aftermath of earthquake-caused urban infra-structural breakdown.

Dr. Bruce Henry Lambert


Neighborhood Rescuers

In the immediate aftermath of a massive earthquake, official relief cannot be relied upon. This is a simple key fact.

Professional help will come eventually - but often hours or days too late. People must expect to be (and prepare for being) on their own in the critical first hours after a major earthquake.

The Kobe earthquake buried an estimated 20,000 people, mainly under collapsed houses. Some people struggled free without assistance, while neighbors, family & friends rescued more than 10,000 others. The professional public services generally arrived later; they rescued a total of 776 people and extracted corpses (from 17 Jan. to 3 Feb. the Fire Service and SDF freed 3286 people, of whom 2510 were dead; of the 776 people rescued alive by public services, 428 rescues occurred on the first day). In other words, approximately 13,500 people survived being buried, and non-professionals were responsible for rescuing more than 94%; the emergency services could help only 6%.

Of the approximately 6500 killed, many lives could have been saved. Hyogo Prefecture Police reportedly estimate (Reuters News Service, 9 Feb 1995) that up to 10% of deaths were due to the fires; Otani (1999) states that 570 people died of fire. This is the horrible cost of poor preparation and insufficient rescue tools. Consider well the 400+ people who died from fire:
Scores of victims were trapped in the wreckage of their homes, fully conscious for many hours after the earthquake; they burned alive.

Imagine the horror of being caught in a collapsed building: You are calling for help, breathing through the dust, even talking with people above the wreckage who want to help but who are without equipment. All pray for the arrival of rescue officials. Then, rather than the welcome sound of rescuers, you hear the crackle of approaching flames, and soon the smell & taste of smoke. Then fire comes -- to painfully roast your life away...

Horrible needless death is made worse when forgotten. Japan is still very unprepared; when the next major earthquake hits, the tragedy will be repeated.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Many who escaped uninjured from the Kobe earthquake expressed frustration at not knowing how to assist others. Most were untrained and unequipped to help with rescues, yet nonetheless thousands were saved. Some unrescued people should have been saved. Japan's national government and local public services seem unable / unwilling to admit that in the event of a major earthquake they can help very little as thousands are dying. It is vital to prepare people to help themselves. Those on-scene in a disaster should have skills, knowledge and tools.

A good model to emulate is the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), developed by the San Francisco Fire Department. Over 10,000 people have thus far completed free six session, 15-hour NERT training, and 1200 more are trained each year. They teach one important warning that has yet to reach Japan: that in a disaster city services will not be available -- a lesson learned from the 7.1 magnitude 1989 Loma Prieta quake, when rescue services received 30,000 calls in the first 5 minutes. The San Francisco planning scenario uses an 8.3 magnitude quake with 10 m/sec wind; they would need 273 fire engines; they have 41. In a worst-case scenario, Tokyo is even more exposed.

We must advocate preparedness among the public. In a disaster, when urban services are unable to help, lifesaving knowledge & tools are a critical necessity.

Green Bar Project

Present difficulties with Green Bar Project:

  • The project is small and has yet to achieve critical mass
  • Japanese officials are unwilling thus far to recognize & publicize their lack of ability to perform: In the immediate aftermath of a massive earthquake, official relief can not be relied upon. This is not criticism - it is a simple key fact.
  • The Green Bar project is still self-funded, with low resources
  • Next steps:

  • Publicity for project: raise awareness
  • Technical research on bar mounting, and on optimal size & weight for bar
  • Develop a corps of supporters
  • Focus attention on neighborhood preparedness, as with NERT in San Francisco
  • Website development at   http://www.greenbar.org
  • Installation of many lifesaving Green Bar

  • Preparedness

  • Many experts, ourselves included, believe that there is an imminent possibility of a disastrous earthquake occurring in the greater Tokyo region. This adds urgency and importance to the Green Bar project: it has the very real possibility to save many lives.
  • In Tokyo for example, high-risk areas with low wooden buildings have no provision of long iron pry bars or other means to help lift heavy beams off those trapped. Quick help is extremely important: if the injured are treated and stabilized immediately after an accident, within the 'Golden Hour,' there is much higher chance of survival. Those who are trapped and cannot get free also face the danger of being overcome by fire.
  • Public Surveys by Prime Minister's Office (Sept. 1997 and June 1999) show that the Japanese public is steadily becoming less concerned and less prepared for a major earthquake. Local and municipal preparation efforts are considerable, and in a disaster are sure to be important. But many neighborhood leaders charged with disaster countermeasures are energetic but elderly people in their 70s. A major earthquake will cause large scale destruction; it is essential that more of the general populace be prepared.
  • Within Tokyo, 1000 people per week receive disaster preparedness training through the Honjo Bosaikan system, totalling more than 400,000 people thus far. And annually on 1 September, one million people participate in Tokyo disaster drills. But are the drills useful? People are directed around to different activities, and finish with a big picnic. Are they stimulated to think and prepare for disaster? Problem solving in a disaster involves lateral thinking and independent but coordinated action. Hadfield (1991, opp. p.115) claims the Tokyo Disaster Day exercises "become less of a drill and more of a fun day out for the family." San Francisco's NERT drills, by contrast, seek to avoid predictability. Explicitly they proclaim "No speeches in auditorium; No sign-in; No knowing what will happen."
  • The Green Bar project combines preparation and response in a cost-effective program. It can be implemented reasonably. In taking the lessons of Kobe to other areas, we honor the memory of those who were lost and help others to save lives. Green Bar installations in fact could be actual memorials to people lost in earthquakes; if so brief ceremonies at neighborhood installations would draw wider attention to the project.
  • A key first step is with the paternalistic bureaucracy, who best serve the public by explaining that in a major disaster, they can't be relied upon for help or direction. People must prepare to help one another. The overriding goal must be to save lives!


    Green Bar needs supporters !

    Help save lives !


    (Go to top of this page)


    Dr. Bruce Henry Lambert       help@greenbar.org
    ?! Helpnet
    Upplandsgatan 53
    113 28 Stockholm   Sweden

    © Greenbar Project