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A major class of ecologic phenomena involves the transfer of energy in such ways and amounts; and at such rapid rates, that inanimate or animate structures are damaged. The harmful interactions with people and property of hurricanes, earthquakes, projectiles, moving vehicles, ionizing radiation, lightning, conflagrations, and the cuts and bruises of daily life illustrates this class.

Ten Strategies for Reducing These Losses

Several strategies, in one mix or another, are available for reducing the human and economic losses that make this class of phenomena of social concern. In their logical sequence, they are as follows:

The first strategy is to prevent the marshalling of the form of energy in the first place: preventing the generation of thermal, kinetic, or electrical energy, or ionizing radiation; the manufacture of gunpowder; the concentration of U-235; the build-up of hurricanes, tornadoes, or tectonic stresses; the accumulation of snow where avalanches are possible; the elevating of skiers; the raising of babies above the floor, as to cribs and chairs from which they may fall; the starting and movement of vehicles; and so on, in the richness and variety of ecologic circumstances.

The second strategy is to reduce the amount of energy marshaled: reducing the amounts and concentrations of high school chemistry reagents, the size of bombs or firecrackers, the height of divers above swimming pools, or the speed of vehicles.

The third strategy is to prevent the release of the energy: preventing the discharge of nuclear devices, armed crossbows, gunpowder, or electricity; the descent of skiers, the fall of elevators; the jumping of would-be suicides; the undermining of cliffs; or the escape of tigers. An Old Testament writer illustrated this strategy in the context both of the architecture of his area and of the moral imperatives of this entire field: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your rook, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if any one fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8). This biblical position, incidentally, is fundamentally at variance with those of those who, by conditioned reflex, regard harmful interactions between man and his environment as problems requiring reforming imperfect man rather suitably modifying his environment.

The fourth strategy is to modify the rate or spatial distribution of release of the energy from it source: slowing the burning rate of explosives, reducing the slope of ski trails for beginners, and choosing the reentry speed and trajectory of space capsules. The third strategy is the limiting case of such release reduction, but is identified separately because in the real world is commonly involves substantially different circumstances and tactics.

The fifth strategy is to separate, in space or time, the energy being release from the susceptible structure, whether living or inanimate: the evacuation of the Bikini islanders and test personnel, the use of sidewalks and the phasing of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the elimination of vehicles and their pathways from community areas commonly used by children and adults, the use of lightning rods, and the placing of electric power lines out of reach. This strategy, in a sense also concerned with rate-of-release modification, has as its hallmark the elimination of intersections of energy and susceptible structure–a common and important approach.

The very important sixth strategy uses not separation in time and space but separation by interposition of a material “barrier”: the use of electrical and thermal insulation, shoes, safety glasses, shin guards, helmets, shields, armor plate, torpedo nets, antiballistic missiles, lead aprons, buzz-aw guards, and boxing gloves. Not that some “barriers,” and ionizing radiation shields, attenuate or lessen but do not totally block this energy from reaching the structures to be protected. This strategy, although also a variety of rate-of-release modification, is separately identified because the tactics involved comprise of large, and usually clearly discrete, category.

The seventh strategy, into which the sixth blends, is also very important–to modify appropriately the contact surface, subsurface, or basic surface, as in eliminating, rounding, and softening corners, edges, and points with which people can, and therefore sooner or later do, come in contact. This strategy is widely overlooked in architecture with many minor and serious injuries the result. It is, however, increasingly reflected in automobile design and in such everyday measures as making lollipop sticks of cardboard and making some toys less harmful for children in impact. Despite the still only spotty application of such principles, the two basic requisites, large radius or curvature and softness, have been known since at least about 400 B.C., when the author of the treatise on head injury attributed to Hippocrates wrote: ‘of those who are wounded in the parts falls from a very high place upon a very hard and blunt object is in most danger of sustaining a fracture and contusion of the bone, and of having it depressed from its natural position; whereas he that falls upon more level ground, and upon a softer object, is likely to suffer less injury in the bone, or it may not be injured at all…” (On Injuries of the Head,” The Genuine works of Hippocrates, trans. F. Adams [The Williams and Wilkins Co., Baltimore, 1939]).

The eighth strategy in reducing losses in people and property is to strengthen the structure, living or non-living, that might otherwise be damaged by the energy transfer. Common tactics, often expensively under-applied, include tougher codes for earthquake, fire, and hurricane resistance. The training of athletes and soldiers has a similar purpose, among others, as does the treatment of hemophiliacs to reduce the results of subsequent mechanical insults. A successful therapeutic approach to reduce the osteoporosis of many post-menopausal women would also illustrate this strategy, as would a drug to increase resistance to ionizing radiation in civilian or military experience. (Vaccines, such as those for polio, yellow fever, and smallpox, are analogous strategies in the closely parallel set to reduce losses from infectious agents.)

The ninth strategy in loss reduction applies to the damage not prevented by measures under the right preceding–to move rapidly in detection and evaluation of damage that ha occurred or is occurring, and to counter its continuation and extension. The generation of a signal that response is required; the signal’s transfers, receipt, and evaluation; the decision and follow-through, are all elements here–whether the issue be an urban fire or wounds on the battlefield or highway. Sprinkler and other suppressor responses, firedoors, MAYDAY and SOS calls, fire alarms, emergency medical care, emergency transports, and related tactics all illustrate this countermeasure strategy. (Such tactics have close parallels in many earlier stages of the sequence discussed here, as for example, storm and tsunami warnings.)

The tenth strategy encompasses all the measures between the emergency period following the damaging energy exchange and the final stabilization of the process after appropriate intermediate and long-term reparative and rehabilitative measures. These may involve return to the pre-event status or stabilization in structurally or functionally altered states.


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