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Doctors, architects learn lessons from Oklahoma City bombing


August 6, 1996
Web posted at: 11:55 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Andrew Holtz

(CNN) -- They seem to be such random acts of terror, but to medical investigators, bombings inflict consistent patterns of injury and death that offer clues to help save lives.

Health officials investigating the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City describe in the Journal of the American Medical Association what they learned, after developing a map of where people died and were injured.


The results could be used to improve building designs to better protect people in the case of terrorist bombings and to help rescuers find victims more quickly amid debris.

There were 168 people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, several of whom were outside the building. But of the nearly 600 people seriously injured, only four had life-threatening internal injuries. Another 20 people suffered dangerous cuts, severe head injuries or burns. Most frequently, people were cut by flying glass.

"The majority of people that were seen in the hospitals had very minor injuries -- most of them were lacerations, abrasions and contusions," said Sheryll Shariat, an epidemiologist with the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

That tells hospitals to prepare for lots of cuts and bruises, not an overwhelming flood of critical trauma patients, she said.

Guide for architects


There were 361 people in the building at the time of the blast. The Oklahoma City researchers pinpointed the location of everyone who was in and around the building, and the results offer clues to where search-and-rescue teams were most likely to find possible survivors.

The map shows it was the building collapse rather than the blast that cost many lives. In some cases, just a few inches made a difference between someone living or dying.

One surprising finding was that people on higher floors were at higher risk of death than those on lower floors, Shariat said.


The National Research Council has issued a report on what can be done to design buildings to be more bomb-resistant. However, there's an aesthetic tradeoff to the added protection, said the council's Richard Little. (136K AIFF or WAV sound)icon

Safer buildings would have thicker walls, stronger structural supports and less glass, which can shatter and cause serious injuries, he said.

Researchers hope to create a computer simulation so disaster planners can predict the effects of bombings with brutal realism.

"Many things in Oklahoma City will become a model for the nation as the nation does prepare itself for terrorist attacks," Shariat said.


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