Protection: It is not very difficult to imagine what could happen to children in schools if they ran under desks for shelter in the event of powerful earthquake.

It has been found that desks in schools are weak and will provide little safety. But then, there is good news. Supremely engineered quake-resistant tables will be made and supplied to the schools around the country.

At Staples & Jattu Wood Industry (SAJWI) in Toorsa, Phuentsholing on January 31, boulders weighing 356kg was let lose from an elevation of three and a half metres on the typical desks used in schools currently. The desk could not withstand the weight and came apart. Earthquake-resistant table stood strong when a weight of 422kg was let lose on it from the same distance.

Earthquake-resistant desk is designed considering a range of building types and collapse scenarios. It provides protection roof and creates passageways for rescuers.

The design withstood a series of rigorous impact tests and has received approval of the Structural Engineering Department of University of Padua, Italy.

Still strong and safe: The earthquake-resistant desk

Still strong and safe: The earthquake-resistant desk

Professor Ido Bruno and Arthur Brutter from the RDFD Research Group of Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, Israel are the brains behind the design.

“After a year of development process, we came up with this design in mid 2011,” Arthur Brutter said. “Bhutan is the second country after Israel to manufacture this product.”

Professor Ido Bruno and Arthur Brutter facilitated an intense weeklong training to the local furniture houses in Phuentsholing. About 15 welders and carpenters from five furniture firms participated and attended the training along with officials from the School Planning and Building Division (SPBD), Ministry of Education (MoE).

“It is a simple school table,” professor Ido Bruno said after the demonstration. “Two children can duck under it for safety.”

About 14 desks were made during the training that met all design specifications, including impact tests. Standard and common commercial steel and plywood available in the country were used to build the tables.

Karma Jigme of Staples & Jattu said: “It is an important learning experience…It taught us the importance of being precise however small the designs.”

Namgay Wood’s Passang Dorji also said the earthquake-resistant desks were more than just tables and that his team had been trying to develop such designs for a long time.

Earthquakes damaged more than 230 schools in the country in 2009 and 2011. Schools conduct mock drills and teach students to duck under the tables in the event of earthquake. But drills will be effective only if desks are strong to withstand heavy impact.

SPBD’s chief engineer, Karma Sonam, said: “The review of furniture designs has been long overdue…this training has come at the right time.”

He said SPBD would avail the ownership and disburse the drawings and specifications in all the dzongkhags. SPBD, however, has to seek permission from the ministry.

Tshewang Rinzin, principal of Phuentsholing Lower Secondary School (PLSS) said, the school has decided to replace old desks with protective ones. “I may even be the first principal to opt for the safety desks.”

But he said price could become an issue. Regular tables today cost more than Nu 1,200. Owners of furniture houses say the cost of protective table may touch to about Nu 6,000.

Principal of Phuentsholing Middle Secondary School (PMSS), Ngawang Dorji, said he is already worried about possibility of duplication in the future and that there should be consistent checks and balances put in place.

The tables schools used today were better when SPBD carried on with regular inspection, said one of the participants. The quality dwindled over the years after the job of monitoring was decentralised. The current table designs that schools use have not changed in about 20 years.

The GeoHazards International (GHI) in collaboration with SPBD facilitated the pilot project that was funded by AIR WORLDWIDE, VERISK ANALYTICS COMPANY. While producing prototype desks, the demonstration and training was also conducted to raise awareness about the desks.

Israel’s AD Meraz Industries Limited (ADMIL) chief executive officer, Avner Shachar, has given the use of the patent of the protective desks as “a gift to the people of Bhutan from Israel.” ADMIL is the trade partner of professor Ido Bruno and Arthur Brutter.

Representatives from the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), School Liaison and Coordination Division, Royal Bhutan Police, District Disaster Management Officers, District Education Officers, principals of Phuentsholing schools, VTI graduates working with the ministry, and students attended the demonstration on January 31.

Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing


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