The earthquake resilient desks that Wangdigatshel Primary School (WPS) in Phuentsholing was equipped with on February 12 can withstand 422kgs of vertical loads.

The desks can accommodate about 30 students.

Officials said that earthquake desks are life-safety devices and are different from standard school desks.

Education ministry’s chief engineer, Lalit Kumar Gurung, said the table was made and distributed to the school for the first time.

He said only three firms, Jattu and Staples Company, Karma Steel and Wood Industry, and H & K Pvt. Ltd. Company, are certified to manufacture such safety desks in the country. “Five firms had participated in manufacturing but three did not succeed.”

He also said that the three firms have been commissioned to produce 200 earthquake resilient desks to be distributed to schools identified as earthquake-vulnerable by the education ministry.

Education officials said that Bhutan is in a high seismic zone and that the ministry is working to ensure the safety of school children, which account for almost a third of country’s population.

In 2016, the ministry conducted the first phase of the project where the school planning and building division engineers along with welders and carpenters from local manufacturing firms were trained in the step-by-step manufacturing of the earthquake resilient desk.

Officials say that about 14 desks were produced during the training, and vertical drop-tests were conducted on two desks by dropping 422kg load of concrete pieces from the ceiling’s height.

“The desks resisted this impact,” Lalit Kumar Gurung said.

Officials say they collaborated with GeoHazards International (GHI) and the award-winning earthquake desk designers, Arthur Brutter and Ido Bruno from Israel, with support from AIR Worldwide, a Verisk Analytics Company.

The chief engineer said MoE would install safety tables in schools that have vulnerable infrastructure. He, however, said funding is a challenge.

Rajesh Rai | Thimphu