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Dealing with disasters
Publication Date : 08-10-2012
Few of the more than 13 million Thais affected by last year's severe floods will have forgotten the misery of the rising water and indeed many will have learned lessons about surviving in desperate conditions. But with fresh inundations threatening many provinces and continuing unclear policies on mitigating the adverse impacts of natural disaster, the majority of Thais know that when it comes to the crunch, they really are on their own.
Just in time to offer some much-needed help is the useful exhibition "Always Prepare: Living with Changes" at Thailand Creative and Design Centre. This not only offers insights into Japan's disaster preparedness wisdom and ideas for coping with emergencies but also reflects what Thailand learned from last year's flood in finding a path from tragedy to triumph.
"We have two words we keep in mind: 'Jishin' - meaning earthquake - and 'itsumo' - meaning always. We have to always prepare for unexpected disasters with mindfulness. When we're facing a crisis, we must rely on ourselves, not the rescue team," says Hirokazu Nagata from the non-profit organisation Plus Arts, a co-organiser of the show.
After the massive earthquake hit Kobe in 1995 causing heavy destruction and death, a group of 20 volunteers conducted interview of 167 victims to learn their experiences at first hand. The result is a manual titled "Jishin Itsumo" that arranges their experiences chronologically, going from immediate reactions to the psychological impact of being long-term evacuees. With attractive illustrations by well-known artist Bunpei Yorifuji, this is one of few useful manuals to detail the practical aspects of living with crisis and has inspired many designers to create products to ease the hardships.
Among the tips provided by evacuees are: turn off the circuit breaker immediately; keep some bottles of water to hand; keep flashlights handy, radios are valuable, write down where you've evacuated to.
What can we do in case we're unable to remain in our home after the disaster? Nagata points out that we can make an emergency shelter from our personal belongings or from the familiar items found around us.
On show in the exhibition is a shelter made out of plastic shopping baskets joined together with umbrella plastic bags - both can be found in a supermarket - so tools such as scissors are not required. Another example is a tent fashioned from a laundry pole as the support, a car cover for the canvas and two flowerpots to form a triangular shape.
Since 2005, Plus Arts has developed hands-on disaster prevention programmes for children called Iza! Kaeru (Frog) Caravan across Japan through a variety of simple, fun-packed games. Kids learn how to operate a fire extinguisher with a target-shooting game, how to form a blanket to act as a stretcher to transport an injured person, and how to make a paper cup from a newspaper, to name just a few. The activities are shown clearly in pictures, videos and diagrams and can easily be adapted to Thai situations.
"While we teach children, parents can learn at the same time. Useful tips implanted during childhood will not be forgotten easily. It's of utmost importance to produce edutainment tools in the form of games, tales or illustrations to keep children and the general public aware of disaster preparation. The public and private sectors should give a chance to designers to create innovative methods for social awareness," says Nagata.
The Plus Arts team has also come with a shuffle card game where children can have fun while acquire the 12 points of basic knowledge and skills based on 1995 earthquake. Nagata has joined forces with young Thai designers to produce this card game in a Thai version with five topics related to flood preparation. They include how to make safe shoes to wear in water, how to make a life jacket and how to provide first aid for a broken bone.
Japanese designers have also come up with products that can assist in everyday life in case of emergency. A square waterproof sheet with zippers can be folded to become a coat but when a disaster strikes, it can be transformed and zipped with other sheets to become a functional tent for a few people.
A travel trolley luggage is designed not only to carry your personal belongings but also functions as a chair and a battery charger. Equipped with dynamo and battery, you are able to charge your possessions while on the move. An adorable stuffed doll can help children feel at ease during the disaster and it also functions as a water container.
There is also an emergency, non-flammable sheet already available as an outdoor blanket that has been vacuum-packed for more regular use as a book cover. The back of a receipt is designed to contain useful information for emergencies such as how to perform artificial respiration and how to call ambulance and fire engine, with QR codes linking to useful websites.
Based on the information from the "Jishin Itsumo" manual, Muji brand presents a range of products that are practical to use during times of hardship. Among them are a high-power LED flashlight with a lightweight, translucent body that can be used as indirect lighting, a portable radio that is rechargeable by turning the handle, and shrink-wrapped T-shirts and face towels that are compressed in small cube packaging, making them easy to keep and store.
Tokyo Gas has a continuing campaign to raise awareness of disaster preparation by distributing promotional giveaways. Among them are a large handkerchief with illustrations showing how it can be used in an emergency, a set of shuffle card game explaining survival techniques in a fun way, and a food wrap that can be wrapped around your body to keep warm or used as a bandage.
Learning to live with water is at the core of the Thai section of the show. The firm Tandem Architects ha designed an anti-flood house with different levels and puts the utility systems on the upper floor so that residents can continue to use electrical appliances and bathrooms during the flood. The ground level is multi-purpose area constructed from polished stones that are easy to clean thus reducing the pressure on exterior walls.
While this part is dominated by text, a few practical products to fight against floods are displayed. For example, the nano silver technology of Smart Silver Spray makes it easy to keep an emergency toilet clean and odour-free. HiQ brand has ready-to-eat canned food with no preservatives that can be kept at room temperature for up a year.
To keep you dry and safe from the risks during the flood, the National Metal and Materials Technology Centre has developed waterproof pants made form a kind of plastic PVC film that are almost as soft as cloth, yet thin and durable.
Thai Taffeta meanwhile produces waterproof yet breathable fabric by laminating the membrane film between two pieces of cloths so wearers won't feel uncomfortable when they sweat.
Textile Prestige firm launches a Dry Max fabric coated with a chemical substance to repel water that makes it dries faster than cotton, nylon and polyester, along with Nano Fresh, a nylon-polyester fabric that impedes the growth of bacteria, which is the source of unpleasant odours.
The exhibition continues until January 6, 2013 at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre.