Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Safe in an emergency. An interview with Tony Gibbs.

Tony Gibbs
Courtesy of Tony Gibbs
Tony Gibbs

Tony Gibbs, a national of Barbados and Grenada, is the Secretary-General of the Council of Caribbean Engineering Organizations and a director and partner in an engineering firm through which he advises organizations and governments in the Caribbean and throughout the Americas on hazard-resistant hospitals.

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 are the major obstacles to building safe hospitals?

A: We know enough about technology to design and construct safe hospitals. The obstacles are insufficient determination to succeed and that people don’t realize that safe hospitals can be built at a reasonable cost. The construction industry regards the effort needed to make hospitals safe as reducing competiveness, rather than increasing value.

Q: Is there a major distinction between hurricane- and earthquake-resistant buildings?

A: The conventional approach to hurricane-resistance design is to prevent wind damage. A building might suffer damage by accidental impact from flying debris, but wind itself should not damage a well designed, constructed and maintained hospital. In the case of earthquakes, the conventional earthquake-resistant design philosophy is to save lives, but not necessarily to protect the building. The result is often damage to and degradation of the facility’s functional ability in severe earthquakes, which is not good enough! We need to adopt different processes at affordable costs to ensure a fully functional hospital after an earthquake.

Q: What would be your number-one recommendation for building a hospital in a hazard-prone region?

A: Independent review of the designs for all new facilities and quality assurance for their construction. These are important when you are designing for multiple hazards. We do not design separately for earthquakes and hurricanes – we always design for both. ■