Tehran's Coming Disaster

200,000 dead, 400,000 injured


Tehran's Coming Disaster
by bahmani

Last week at the Beyond Persia film festival in San Francisco, Fardad Jamali and I went to the screening of a phenomenal film, "Bam 6.6" a documentary made by Jahangir Golestan-Parast.

Jamali is a Safety Expert. Actually he is one the top Industrial Safety, Health, and Emergency Preparedness experts in the US today. He wanted to see the film because it contained a lot of technical footage of the Bam earthquake, footage that has not been readily available to experts like him, to examine details of the rescue procedures used to rescue and retrieve the injured and dead.

If you have not seen this film, it is an amazing telling of the story of Tobb Dell 'Oro and his fiancee Adele Freedman who in 2003 went to Iran as part of a vacation, during which Tobb was going to propose to Adele, specifically planning to do so in the magical city of Bam. Bam has fascinated the world primarily because of it's former pristine beauty and the fact that it had survived so long, but also for it's mystery, as no one knows for sure just who the inhabitants of Bam were and what exactly the citadel city's purpose was in history.

Of course the plans went horribly wrong as the earthquake struck the very same night in which Tobb and Adele went to sleep in a quaint youth hostel within the city. Tobb was critically injured and Adele went through several weeks of surgery, treatment for depression, and hospital care in Tehran. Her case drew national attention in Iran, and the story of the American couple who had come to Iran to be betrothed in Bam, became a sensation and an outpouring of sympathy. Flowers and well wishes came into Adele's hospital room, and the government of Iran refused to accept payment for her treatment, when her parents came to Tehran to see her and arrange for her to return home.

During this emotion-filled film however, what upset Jamali, even more, was what he saw beyond the humanitarian story of these 2 unfortunate people.

I knew going into the film that Jamali would be focused on the technical details of the recovery operation and how the Iranian rescue officials reacted to the disaster. Normally Jamali is one of those obsessed Iranians whose profession is also their hobby. Whether it is to help the city of Fremont coordinate their Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, or to be a volunteer fire chief for his home town of Pleasanton, or to be the local San Jose chapter president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Jay as he is known to his American friends, is either advocating safety and emergency preparedness, or speaking about it to an audience at a trade show in China, or a convention in Vegas. On his day off, he'll also be happier than a pig in slop, to put together a "Jay's Recipe" survival kit for your home and family.

So you can imagine sitting next to him as the Bam disaster and the sheer reality of the destruction unfolded on the screen before us. Although Jamali had managed to smuggle in medical supplies to Iran, via a cousin in Tehran who drove down the supplies to a doctor she knew and could trust, in Bam during the disaster, we had only heard about the earthquake at that point. We could never have guessed it would be as bad as it turned out to be.

Immediately as the first scenes of the devastation began to appear, Jamali began twitching and "notch-notching" as he slowly became exasperated at the general lack of preparation, and worse, improper rescue and recovery techniques that he was seeing before his fast-moistening eyes.

After the film was finally over, pinching the tears out of our eyes, we made our way slowly out of the small theater, and began to talk about the technical aspects of the rescue techniques and recovery operation depicted in the film.

"I can't believe it!" Jamali said exasperatedly, "They don't know the first thing about any of this!

"I know," I said, "It took them 3 days to just allow the Americans with dogs to come and help them find survivors." I said, remembering the scene in which the American volunteer rescuers from Virginia and their dead finding dogs and live finding dogs, drank hot tea and described the hospitality of the Iranians, given the animosity between the US and Iran. "in the end, people are just people" one had said profoundly.

On the way back home, in Jamali's car, we spoke in somber tones about the film and the disaster.

"This happens every goddamn time there is an earthquake in Iran!" I said, "I mean how many times does this have to happen?, I mean, why can't they assess the number of towns and cities that are at risk of an earthquake or sitting on a fault , and at least be ready for the next big quake?"

Jamali replied, "They could do that and even more." He said as he squinted through the light rain that had begun to come down.

"What do you mean?" I asked

"Baba jan, look, there is so much they could be doing, that is basic, simple, established read it and do it type protocols for this sort of thing, that they could have rescued far more people than they did. It is absolutely un-necessay for this many to have died." he replied.

Later that week, in the shiny offices of his San Jose consultation firm Enviro Safetech, I spoke with Jamali about exactly what the government of Iran could have done better to rescue more people than were saved in Bam.

Jamali outlined a  basic plan that now seems all but elemental, and not only sounds obvious, but happens to be backed by the emergency response policy here in the US.

Jamali suggested that given Iran's many fault lines and precarious geology, the chances of earthquakes in Iran is extremely high. Almost higher than any other country in the  world. Given this risk, Jamali suggested that the government of Iran position at least 4 fully stocked helicopters at the 4 corners of the country, with a team of trained responders, ready to go into action. The nearest helicopter to the area, would arrive within minutes of a devastating earthquake, while the other 3 arrive very shortly later.

"Yeah but what good will one helicopter do?" I asked.

"Look," he said, "of course the responders would not be able to start saving lives on their own, that is why they need to be trained in coordinating all the help that will begin arriving as soon as the quake is over. They would direct the helpers and volunteers so that they properly prioritize their search after the team assesses everything. This happens very quickly." he added.

"In the film you could see people doing whatever they wanted and there was no coordination. Some even drove heavy bulldozers onto the rubble, not knowing that they were probably crushing survivors beneath them." We both winced.

Jamali swallowed hard, and continued., "Look the most likely chance of survival after an incident like this, is within 24 hours. You have got to get as many people out in that time as you can. After 24 hours, you are mostly bringing out bodies. That is why they needed to allow help to come in immediately, not delay the Americans and European search and rescue dog teams for 3 days later."

"I see. Then if the Iranian helicopter team was in place they could have directed the foreign help to the right areas and move things along faster, more efficiently." I was starting to get it.

We both pondered the sheer idiocy of not having such a plan, and wondered silently, how many people in Bam had died unnecessarily because the government does not know how to provide such basic emergency rescue procedures.

"Why do you think the government does not do something like this?" I asked.

"Honestly, I don't know. The last time I was in Iran a couple of years ago, I approached someone close to the head of Iran's Industrial Safety department, and was told that, "what will happen, will happen, it is God's will", type shit. and I couldn't handle that so I got up and just left without saying anything further."  You could see the exasperation in Jamali's face growing as he remembered the meeting.

"But that's not really what worries me." he said.

"What?" I asked.

"What worries me is if an earthquake like Bam hits Tehran. That will be horrible on a scale I don't think anyone will be able to deal with." he said in a scared voice.

"Why? Because of all the apartments and sky scrapers?"  I suggested.

"Partially. Iranian construction techniques are what you would call, "highly cost effective". For example to save money on the weld, welders in Iran only spot weld the beams of buildings, not a full strong seam all the way around. When an earthquake rolls or bumps, these spot welds snap off easily, which will create a lot of pancaking of floors onto the floors below and so on. It's simple gravity and physics." he said matter of factly.

"How many people do you think will die or be injured if a big one hits Tehran?" I asked half afraid of his answer.

"I'd say 200,000 dead, maybe twice that many injured." he said.

'That's a lot of God's will. " I sighed.

If you know anyone in Iran's Safety and Emergency Preparedness department, who would be able to help the government of Iran to get ready for the next big earthquake, pass this on to them, or put them in touch with Fardad Jamali. If you have any questions about Safety and Emergency Preparedness for the home or your workplace, contact Fardad Jamali. Because he believes that it is God's will that we be prepared.


more from bahmani

Earthquake preparation

by Lefty Lap Poodle (not verified) on

Bahmani here are some pictures of the latest earthquake drills. Probably not the level you'd like but better than nothing I suppose.



Manesh: Criticize away!

by bahmani on

Sorry I did not see your comment, please post it again according to these new rules we must all abide by. I'd love to read your critique and respond if I have an argument worthy of your point.


to Left Lap: War disaster vs earthquake disaster

by bahmani on

I agree that both would be horrible. Somehow the thought of a peaceful day in which suddenly a large portion of Tehran would turn to rubble instantly and as a result of not being prepared a la Mr. Jamali's expertise in helping prepare the city, the kinds of numbers projected would perish and be hurt. I would think that might be cruelest of all. Although a war could cause far more damage, at least you'd somewhat see it coming. I think we can safely guarantee, Iran's air raid system will go off the minute Israel's bombers leave the ground, allowing people to at least have some warning, but I don't think that anyone in Iran has a single ear (never mind seismograph!) listening to the ground. But both would be horrible. Someone should write about war too... Oh wait...

Moderator 1234

Dear Manesh

by Moderator 1234 on

I was the one who deleted your two comments.  My apologies for upsetting you, Sir.  The comments were not deleted because they objected to Mr. Bahmani.  Both your comments contained words considered "foul language" for site moderators--cause for deletion of comments whenever we can catch them.  Once a comment is deleted, it disappears for good, so we can't reinstate your comment.  I hope we haven't lost you as a site participant.  Sorry again.


Reinstate or lose me

by manesh on

Reinstate my comments or lose me as a participant mr. Javid. 


comment deleted TWICE

by manesh on

First time, I used the term "f**k", next time I changed that to "scr*w". Both were deleted.  These are terms that editor uses liberally in his writings. So, why was it deleted? Just because I criticized Bahmani?


Try another scenario

by Left Lap Poodle (not verified) on

Bahmani this is a good article and we can imagine it, but since we've seen similar natural disater cases in other parts of the world, like tsunami and earthquakes with tens or hundreds of thousands dead and injured and displaced, we can imagine it.

However, if a war breaks out with Iran don't you think the same number of casualties, if not more, will happen? How would we in America react to such a man made disaster? How would we be treated?

I suppose some of us would get on the bandwagon and cheer the killings of "mullahs" and say they deserved it and out of the ashes will rise a free and democractic Iran and so forth, but those of us with a good head on our shoulders know that it would be a major disater that will affect all of us negatively.

Anyway, what do you think about a man made disater in Iran with the same number of casualties?

Darius Kadivar

Now imagine an Earthquake in Natanz ..

by Darius Kadivar on

Great Article Bruce as usual.

I wonder what security measures we can take when it comes to nucleare sites. Imagine a Tchernobile catasrophe now that we have become a nuclear ambitious nation thanks to our Islamic rocket scientists ?

Khoda Maro Nejat bedeh ...