Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Safe in an emergency. An interview with Teddy Boen.

Teddy Boen
Courtesy of Teddy Boen
Teddy Boen

Teddy Boen, a structural engineer from Indonesia, is a senior adviser for the World Seismic Safety Initiative and a former director of the International Association for Earthquake Engineering. He has worked as a consultant for The World Bank, the United Nations and NGOs involved in reconstructing Aceh and Java.

Health systems and facilities built and organized to withstand emergencies and natural disasters is the theme of this year’s World Health Day on 7 April. Dr Mohammed R Al Kashif, director of the Palestinian Ministry of Health’s hospital services, describes how he and his colleagues coordinated hospitals and facilities across Gaza during the recent violence. Teddy Boen, from Indonesia, and Tony Gibbs, from Barbados and Grenada, talk about building health facilities to withstand tsunamis, earthquakes and other disasters.

Q: What difficulties in building safe hospitals are specific to your region?

A: Engineers do not always know how earthquake prone the hospital site is and lack proper knowledge about earthquake-resistant design. On top of that, they rarely inspect the construction itself, leaving that to contractors and construction workers.

Q: What are the challenges of building hospitals to withstand tsunamis and earthquakes?

A: Tsunamis are usually caused by earthquakes, so we need to make hospitals resistant to earthquakes.

Q: What are your proudest achievements?

A: After the tsunami and earthquake in December 2004, I checked the hospitals in Aceh to see which were structurally safe and could be reoccupied. After the earthquake in Yogyakarta in May 2006, I helped patients return to the wards. But, after attending a Hospital Preparedness for Emergencies and Disasters course, doctors realized that they don’t always need to evacuate patients. [After that earthquake] we just had to patch up the cracks the following day.

Q: Is building earthquake-safe hospitals cost effective?

A: The structural cost of building a hospital is only approximately 20% of the total cost. The most expensive parts are the diagnostic equipment and functional/operational components. If appropriately assessed, the cost of retrofitting – i.e. adding additional components to the existing structure – is minor compared to the total cost of the hospital. For newly built hospitals, important issues for building a seismic-resistant hospital are: preparing a proper, sound earthquake-resistant analysis and design both for the structural and non-structural components, followed by using good quality materials and good workmanship during the construction. The seismic design will not increase the cost for the structure significantly compared to the cost of the non-structural components and medical equipment.

Q: How can hospital safety standards be improved worldwide?

A: Assist developing countries in implementing a safe hospitals policy by funding the structural analysis (to identify the weak parts of the building) of several hospitals in each country, provide training to the local engineers and find the funds for retrofitting. ■