An example of Best Practices in Public Administration<

Events Analysis






Policy statements are essential.

National earthquake (EQ) policy statement sets operational framework for later specific EQ disaster mitigation measures.

June 29, 1974

State Council, People's Republic of China

State Council orders Document No. 69 sent to seven municipalities and provinces: Beijing, Tianjin, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Liaoning, Shandong. Document No. 69 alerts public officials to the serious earthquake (EQ) situation; informs them of risk and advises region to prepare for EQs of magnitude greater than six (M>6); M=7-8 also possible.

Document No. 69 alerts northeast China to the possiblity of large earthquakes (EQs) within two years. Scientific information is shared openly with leading public administrators in the seven risk areas of North China and the Bohai Sea. EQ management offices are established and top priority is placed on EQ preparedness. Cooperation between professional and lay detection teams is emphasized, and detection networks at regional, county and village levels are set up and strengthened. Public education and EQ monitoring programs are intensified.

Counties intensify efforts in EQ preparedness: detection of precursors, public education and review of infrastructure.

From 1974

Counties in the region affected by Document No. 69

EQ preparedness programme is implemented, including monitoring, public education, and strengthening of structures. Lay monitoring in factories, mines and schools encouraged. EQ office for EQ preparedness activities set up in most counties by 1976.

Public learns about EQs, the lay detection of precursors (anomalies in water level, color, temperature, chemistry, and quality; release of gases; animal behavior; weather changes), methods of preparing for disasters, and the need for heightened awareness.

Experience, interest and responsibility spurs top public administrator to strengthen scientific background.

From 1974

Ran Guangqi, Head of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Qinglong County

Alerted by Document No. 69 and recalling experience of 1966 magnitude M=7.3 Xingtai EQ, Ran decides to learn about EQs from county's Science Committee's office and from textbook by Chinese geologist Li Siguang (in English = J. S. Lee).

Through gradual self-training, head of Qinglong County strengthens his disaster decision-making ability.

Energetic administrator increases county's EQ awareness and preparedness.

From November, 1975

Wang Chunqing, a 21-year-old Qinglong County administrator

Placed in charge of Qinglong County's Science Committee's EQ disaster management programme. Appointed in June 1976 as head of county's newly established EQ Office.

Increases county's EQ monitoring stations (sites) from 6 to 16 (nine of these lay-monitoring sites are at schools). Intensifies public education, distributing thousands of copies of booklets and posters; presenting slide shows and movies in villages, towns, and city, including short EQ preparedness film before every cinema presentation (materials provided by the State Seismological Bureau (SSB)).

Delegation of authority creates conditions for greater efficiency.

Just before July 8, 1976

Wang Jinzhi, Head of Qinglong County's Science Committee, before leaving town for a meeting

Gives his deputy Zhang Hongjiu instruction to process urgent matters without waiting for his return.

County officials able to take action quickly.

Open channels for information sharing

July 8, 1976

Wang Chunqing

Attends Chengde District meeting on EQs.

Learns of the larger, regional meeting on EQs in Tangshan and proceeds there by July 14, 1976.

Administrators are trained to educate the public

July 14 to July 19

State Seismological Bureau (SSB)

SSB holds regional conference in Tangshan City.

Trains administrators to educate public on measures for EQ preparedness.

Conference organizers quietly

supportive of unplanned scientific presentation

July 16 & 18

Wang Chengmin, head of the Beijing-Tianjin Section of the SSB's Analysis and Prediction Department

During Tangshan conference, holds two informal evening meetings (with only 2 hours prior notice given) on intermediate- and short-term predictions of EQ.

Shows and discusses data of precursory signals, allowing participants to draw their own conclusions, and to integrate these conclusions with past plus recent data and empirical trends.

Local adminstrators and scientists share EQ information:

development of inter-disciplinary network of professionals who are knowledgeable about EQ preparedness and mitigation.

July 16, 1976

Wang Chunqing, administrator, attends scientist Wang Chengmin's presentation.

Takes detailed notes on presentation by Wang Chengmin.

Major points of scientific presentation:

  1. Many EQs of magnitude M>7 have occurred recently throughout the world.
  2. Professional EQ monitoring teams and lay detection centers are reporting abnormal signals for Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan-Bohai-Zhangjiakou region, which may relate to a possible EQ.
  3. Analysis of scientific data acquired by seven major techniques, including stress and electrical measurements, indicate that there is a good possibility that this region will be struck by a significant EQ. Data include (i) the Sanhe monitoring team's prediction of an EQ of M=5, between July 22 and August 5, 1976; (ii) synthesis of data from several field teams regarding dates, locations, and assessments of situation, plus comments on various EQs in northeast China and in Inner Mongolia:

"From all the data and trends, we conclude that this area, within 1-2 years, may have a M=8 EQ; the area should therefore actively prepare, widely circulate this EQ knowledge (especially to big factories and mines) and make plans and proper measures for EQ preparation."

Report recent developments in a timely manner to county officials.

Conference ends July 19; return to county headquarters July 21.

Wang Chunqing

Returns to Qinglong County and reports immediately to Zhang Hongjiu, Deputy Head of Science Committee, on EQ situation.

Zhang Hongjiu takes information very seriously and recommends county-wide preparations and education. They go together to report to Yu Shen, the County's Associate Director in charge of supervising the County's Science Committee.

Busy, senior officials recognize significance of information reported by junior official; increasing leadership awareness of EQ risk.

July 21

Wang Chunqing and Zhang Hongjiu

Together, they report to Yu Shen.

Tell Yu Shen of danger of impending disasters (predicted EQ and possible flood). Yu Shen recommends they make appointment to report to leadership as soon as possible; he instructs Wang Chunqing to contact Ma Gang, county office administrator, to arrange appointment with Ran Guangqi, Head of CCP in Qinglong County.

Science and administrative tasks are coordinated and integrated.

July 21-24

Wang Chunqing

Participates in alerting top county administrators of EQ situation, while also checking (over 3-day period) with county's 16 lay-monitoring sites for latest readings.

All 16 sites are linked by telephone to county's EQ Office.

  1. Meets with Ma Gang on July 22, 1976, who recognizes significance of EQ situation and urgency of notifying County Head Ran Guangqi.
  2. Contacts lay-monitoring sites for record update to assess immediate EQ situation in county: unusual changes noted at 4 sites. Integrates lay-monitoring findings into report to county leadership.

Topmost official takes report seriously;

crystallization of priority on EQ risk.

July 23

Ran Guangqi, Head of CCP in Qinglong County

Says that the report should be made not only to him, but also to the entire CCP Standing Committee of Qinglong County.

Calls special meeting of the CCP Standing Committee to meet at 8:30 pm on July 24, to hear Wang Chunqing report on EQ situation (even though the CCP and government leaders were busy preparing for a major agricultural conference).

Develop communicative and informative mechanisms to support mutual activities;

incoming information flows both vertically and horizontally into EQ Office; protocols for speedy communication are set.

Integrated past and current EQ and flood data in decision making.

Senior officials take report by junior official seriously. Focused attention on EQ by strengthening power of responsible officials to act without delay or further reference to top officials.

July 24, 1976

Zhang Pingyi,

Yu Shen,

Chen Yongfu,

Ma Gang

(also Sun You):

At the CCP Standing Committee meeting, there is a difference of opinion concerning the appropriate response to the EQ situation, the possibility of creating panic and loss of credibility, and the degree of popular knowledge and/or presence of superstitions about EQs. Ran Guangqi (absent at another meeting but kept fully informed) and Yu Shen, both of whom hold important posts, assert the wisdom of community preparation in view of Document No. 69 and information from Tangshan Conference.

Wang Chunqing reports on EQ situation:

Notes strong possibility of EQ M=5 between 7/22 and 8/5 in Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan-Bohai-Zhangjiakou area; and M=8 likely from second half of 1976 to beginning of following year.

Note that of the county's 16 monitoring stations, 6 have monitoring equipment installed.


  1. Strengthen leadership at all levels.
  2. Establish EQ Command Office: Head, Ran Guangqi, Executive Head, Yu Shen, Associate Head, Wang Chunqing; staffed for 24-hour communication; location, for now, in Science Committee's office area.
  3. Strengthen monitoring stations, by assigning people to special 24-hour duty, and by scheduling daily reports to EQ Office.
  4. Place EQ equipment in air-raid resistant structures (built for air defense concerns at that time).
  5. Promote education on EQ detection and preparation.
  6. Instruct EQ Office to write up EQ preparation measures for county officials and the general public. Disseminate information county-wide by telephone and by public address system.
  7. Emphasize that there may soon be an EQ, and that its effects can be mitigated. Give special attention to auditoriums, cinemas and theatres. Strengthen safety measures at schools.
  8. Instruct officials, civil workers and citizens to be on alert. NOTE: Key officials go without sleep for 3 days.

County alerts government officials at town and village levels.

July 24, 1976

Ran Guangqi, Head of Qinglong County CCP

Immediately after meeting, notifies by telephone conference leading officials of all 43 towns in Qinglong County of possible disaster(s).

Note: County is composed of towns and surrounding villages, known respectively as communes and brigades in 1976.

Discusses and arranges preparations for EQ (and flood). Likens urgent disaster situation to that of fire alarm. Emphasizes that every official is responsible for preparing people in their areas and that they are accountable for their actions or inaction.

Communication channel between counties utilized;

activation of communication network.

From July 24 onwards

Wang Chunqing

Contacts surrounding counties

Requests information on any anomalies recorded in neighboring counties, in accordance with periodic practice.

Public EQ announcement prepared for county-wide dissemination;

anticipation of EQ risk.

Through night of July 24 and during day of July 25

Wang Chunqing and staff

Work 24 hours non-stop, on detailed instructions to county officials and general public on the EQ situation and preparation measures.

Activate county-wide information network; public informed of EQ risk and of potential losses. Preparation measures include:

  1. Broadcast lectures on EQs.
  2. Alert EQ monitoring stations to pay particular attention, with overnight watch duty, between July 22 and August 5, 1976.
  3. Assign officers to EQ preparation work on county, district, town and village levels.
  4. Inform by telephone the 22 factories, mines, schools, post offices, reservoirs, cinemas, auditoriums, etc., to prepare for a possible EQ.

County officials show flexibility by using already-planned conference on another topic as the occasion to publicize the urgent EQ situation;

adoption of adaptive organizational behavior.

July 25


County leadership has Wang Jinzhi report on EQ situation at county-level agricultural meeting of more than 800 county and town officials.

(43 towns, each composed of a cluster of contiguous villages [total of 404 organized villages, and 27,000 native places where government supervision is less])

Use event of agricultural meeting to discuss impending EQ (and flood) situation.

At the agricultural meeting, a decision was made to send two officials (one county level and one local community) to each town, with instructions:

  1. Everyone must be informed by the end of July 26!
  2. Officials must travel straight to office and begin their work, without stopping at home or for personal business (anyone negligent will be held accountable).
  3. Immediately begin EQ and flood preparations and public education campaign.
  4. Each town and each village should have an EQ command office to transmit information down and across to neighboring towns and city.
  5. Set up 24-hour communications; reports, patrols, and links with nearby counties, to know every detail of trends in surrounding areas.
  6. Use various means for education of people: broadcasting, workshops, telephone calls to village offices, blackboards, night schools, neighbors informing neighbors.
  7. Keep windows and doors open; neither cook nor eat inside; where feasible, stay in sheds in the fields.

County Government reaches out to entire population;

alerts community.

July 25


Broadcast Bureau

Begins broadcasting EQ information 3 times a day using public announcement system that reaches all rural, residential and business areas in county.

The population is alerted to the most recent EQ situation, on the dangers of EQs, and of how to make themselves safer before, during and after an EQ.

Shared perception of emergency

From July 25

Towns and villages

Emergency meetings at town and village levels

Ability to spread the word is enhanced through this community-based network.

Leading public administrator sets example

From July 25

Ran Guangqi, Head of Qinglong County

Takes up residence in makeshift tent made of poles and a plastic sheet.

Encourages all county officials and residents to heed warnings to stay away from buildings.

Officials do not rest during the emergency preparations, working day and night;

intensify investment of resources in preparedness.

July 24-27

Secretary of Dazhangzi Town (also a member of Qinglong County's CCP Standing Committee)

Personally participates in town's EQ preparation activities: remains at town reservoir for 7 days; does not sleep for 3 days; eats only rice with salt.

Instructs villages to set up own EQ office with 24-hour monitoring. (Pre-EQ situation: hot weather, rains, humidity, awareness of 1975 M=7.3 Haicheng EQ). Emergency broadcast on night of July 27 requests village officials to examine all buildings; every home is to have one person on watch (in shifts) throughout the night.

Top official integrates past and current information and goes to the people to assess EQ preparations.

From July 25

Zhang Pingyi, Associate Head of CCP in Qinglong County

Visit 23 towns to examine EQ preparations

Emphasis on EQ preparation, because he remembers in previous provincial meeting the discussion of large disasters caused by EQs in Japan.

Responsible officials work day and night;

intensive engagement in preparedness efforts.

From July 25

County engineer

Sleeps outside for a month; maintains 24 hour watch before, during and after EQ mainshock and aftershocks.

Stays on alert to shut off power as soon as an EQ occurs; equipment guarded 24 hours a day.



Public behavior changes in response to reliable data concerning EQ risk (scientific data from county level seen within context of earlier observations at grass-roots level).

Villagers see county prediction as providing a framework for understanding already perceived sense-data.

From July 25

Village CCP and civil defense members are most responsible for carrying out EQ preparations.

Xia Dahudian Village of Qinglong County is 90 km from Tangshan.

  1. Broadcast EQ situation through loudspeaker at every home, factory, harvest field and street corner.
  2. Alert people to build sheds in fields, move from homes into sheds and to avoid structures, including walls and powerlines.
  3. Carry elderly out to sheds.

Note: by evening of July 26, 1976, every one is relocated to sheds.

  1. Most villagers believe the EQ broadcast because county officials base their report on data from scientists.
  2. EQ warning corroborates lay-monitoring evidence from two local sites; strange animal behavior and changes in water level, color, chemistry, and gas release observed. NOTE: from July 20, 1976, villagers noticed domestic animals behaving very strangely: pigs ran in circles and would not stay in pens; chickens refused to stay in chicken coops; also, yellow weasels left their hiding places and ran around unafraid of the villagers.
  3. Village patrols (twice daily) are set up to prevent people from sneaking back into their houses (able-bodied people are fined if caught inside houses).
  4. Villagers learn lay techniques to sense EQs, e.g., overturn empty glass bottle and balance in metal wash basin, so as to hear the bottle tip over in an EQ.



Grass roots respond to report by county officials.



From July 25

Village CCP and civil defense members are most responsible for carrying out EQ preparations.

Xia Baoyuhuai Village of Qinglong County is 75 km from Tangshan.

  1. Emergency meeting of leading officials and heads of production teams.
  2. Mass meetings of more than 300 people to inform villagers of possible EQ and of preparatory strategies.
  3. Build sheds for shelter of people leaving homes; by late July 26, everyone out of homes and buildings.
  4. Intensify watch for precursors.
  1. Note that chickens are flying high, and pigs are running into walls; well water is muddy and colder than normal on July 26-27; warm spring nearby, used for washing clothes and usually 40oC, becomes cold 4-5 days before EQ; weather is extremely hot and humid, starting July 18.
  2. Elementary school students put bottles upside down to sense earth shaking.
  3. Every family assigns one person to NOT sleep (in shifts), i.e., families are instructed to take responsibility for their own survival and safety.



Delegation and division of labour; diligence is maintained

From July 25

Village CCP and civil defense members are most responsible for carrying out EQ preparations.

Wen Quan Village of Qinglong County is 70 km from Tangshan.

Divide tasks into:

  1. building sheds,
  2. having people leave their buildings, and
  3. public education.
  1. Build tents and sheds from locally available materials.
  2. Observe large number of yellow weasels, nocturnal animals that normally hide and are afraid of people; villagers had not realized significance of this and other strange animal behavior (observed 10 to 20 days before EQ) until county EQ announcement.

Intensify EQ alert

July 25-26

Town officials

Broadcast information widely and to all levels to intensify EQ monitoring and preparations.

Heightened awareness that EQ could "happen any day now !!" Widespread dissemination of information on precursors.

Educate lay public both in Qinglong City and throughout the county

July 27

Wang Jinzhi, Head of County Science Committee

At the request of county leadership, gives special talk on EQ situation and mitigation measures to more than 800 officials attending the agricultural meeting.

Attendees are informed on the EQ situation, advised to keep doors and windows open, and instructed as to how to get out and away from buildings should an EQ strike.

School children participate in EQ science and public administration preparedness.

Students are a major resource in preparedness activities.

From July 24-27

Local Middle School in Qinglong City: 3 physics teachers and small study group of students

This school lay-monitoring site, one of 9 in the county, was set up in December 1975.

Collect data from local people and record precursors; students note changes in water and that normally nocturnal yellow weasels are running around in large numbers in broad daylight (especially large increase noted on July 27, 1976).

  1. Symposium planned for July 28 is moved to earlier date of July 27 at the demand of students who see large increase of yellow weasels running around in daylight.
  2. By evening of July 27, school buildings are declared off-limits to everyone; students are not allowed to be inside buildings.

Informal transmission of information across county boundary

July 27

Dong Wu, doctor at hospital in Qinglong County

Goes to Tangshan on night of July 27, and stays with relatives.

Informs his relatives that Qinglong County is prepared for an EQ and warns them to prepare also; they listen in disbelief and tell him not to tell others to avoid panic; he puts his clothes by his bedside, to leave house quickly should EQ begin. Relatives accept advice to leave doors and windows open, sleep lightly and stand an empty bottle upside-down on edge of table.

Witnesses' accounts: EQ warning data, actual experiences

July 28

(just before EQ)

Residents of Qinglong County

Precursors immediately before EQ

1. Eye witnesses from villages of Xia Dahudian and Xia Baoyuhuai report:

"Sky brightens momentarily with white light in direction of Tangshan City; ominous rumbling heard; ground vibrations begin."

2. Dr. Dong Wu in Tangshan sees flash of white light and hears sound of ominous rumbling.

Lack of communication between public administrators and scientists leads to an unprepared public; great human suffering results.

Generalized breakdown of socio-technical connection

July 28, 1976, at 3:42 am


The Great Tangshan EQ (GTE); Intensity XI (11) in area with maximum damage; trees lining the EQ fault surface rupture are burnt on the side closest to the fault.

  1. 242,469 die, almost 1/4 of Tangshan's one million population.
  2. 600,000 are seriously injured.
  3. 7,000 families are completely obliterated.
  4. 10,000 Tangshan residents lose their spouses.
  5. 2,652 children become orphans.
  6. 3,800 are left handicapped, as paraplegics or amputees.

"On 28 July 1976 at 3:42 a.m. an EQ of a magnitude of 7.8 occurred in Tangshan in the northeastern part of China. The hypocenter was directly under the city of Tangshan at a depth of 11 km. The seismic intensity at the epicenter measured XI. People were fast asleep when the EQ struck. Lightning flashed across the sky and the earth rumbled ominously seconds before the earth began to shake. In a matter of seconds an industrial city of a million people was reduced to rubble. About 240.000 people perished, and some 7000 families were completely obliterated. This catastrophe not only shook China but stunned the world."

Knowledge and preparation reduce loss of life; officials can empower the public to save their own lives.

July 28 3:42 am

Qinglong County

County residents are aware and prepared by the time GTE strikes.

(Note: Qinglong County is located 115 km from Tangshan.)

  1. 1 DEATH ONLY (due to heart condition).
  2. Animals are safe.
  3. County sustains maximum damage of intensity VIII (8). Residents at Wen Quan Village hear and experience the destructive power of the EQ as large sections of the historic 1000-year-old Great Wall split and crash down from nearby hilltops.
  4. 7,000 buildings collapse totally.
  5. 180,000 buildings are damaged.
  6. At county middle school, roof shifts and walls collapse, but no loss of life.
  7. Some residents want to return to homes to escape heavy rains, but civil defense insist on staying in tents during aftershock period.

Relevant knowledge supports mitigation of disasters.

July 28 3:42 am

Agricultural meeting in Qinglong City

More than 800 meeting attendees able to exit urban building complex, avoiding serious injury

One attendee misses the lecture on EQ safety held at county headquarters on the evening of July 27 and hence does not leave the building in the safest manner; he is cut by breaking glass.

Survivors of disasters can play a significant role as rescuers.

July 28 3:42 am

Dr. Dong Wu

Wakes relatives at first rumbling and runs outside; lifts two relatives out of their home through an open window before building collapses.

  1. Saves himself and his relative's entire family.
  2. Drives 180 km to find functioning hospital for one injured relative; stays to help injured at hospital for four days.
  3. Qinglong County officials, who had sent Dr. Dong to Tangshan on medical business, dispatch a search car which finds him on the 7th day; they bring him back to his much-relieved family in Qinglong.

Well-prepared local survivors can be the first to assist during a disaster.

July 28

Qinglong County

Immediately organizes a rescue effort: within 5 hours after EQ, sends first medical team to the disaster zone.

  1. Sends the first rescue team that reaches Tangshan after the M=7.8 (mainshock) EQ.
  2. In total, three rescue teams are sent.
  3. Receives injured at county hospitals.
  4. Supplies, water and food are sent to Tangshan; production is maintained.

EQs continue to create havoc after mainshock; close cooperation between public administrators, scientists and lay public is essential to minimize damage and loss of life.

Limiting damage requires collaborative action.

July 28 onwards, for 6 months


  1. Large aftershocks, M=6.2 and M=7.1, occur on July 28; many significant EQs occur for months after the M=7.8 mainshock.
  2. Aftershocks define EQ rupture zone; region of damage is centered on Tangshan and stretches radially for 200 km.
  3. Heavy rains follow mainshock.
  1. M=7.1 aftershock destroys almost all of the remaining buildings left standing after the mainshock. Survivors re-build four times, with efforts often destroyed by aftershocks.
  2. Aftershock activity causes many more deaths and injuries.
  3. Heavy rains impede rescue efforts, adding to the death toll.
  4. As many as 400,000 live outdoors.
  5. Careful questioning of lay public by teams of scientists after M=7.8 mainshock provides invaluable data on EQ precursors, enabling rescuers to organize their efforts around the aftershocks. (In the village of Yangguanlin, the observations of children lead scientists to predict the Ninghe M=6.9 aftershock.)

From EQ ashes, a new city arises; public administrators, scientists and lay public continue to learn from GTE. Crisis provides opportunity for learning.

From 1976 to 1986


  1. Rebuilding begins in damaged region almost immediately.
  2. New building codes protect to EQ intensity level VIII (8).
  3. Historic sites designated to educate officials, scientists and lay public on EQs.
  4. Monument and museum built by Tangshan City in memory of GTE victims.
  1. Some schools open in the streets after one month; some factories begin production within two weeks.
  2. One million sheds house survivors for six months after the EQ.
  3. After 7 years, people return to normal housing.
  4. After 10 years, all buildings are reconstructed except for 7 historical sites, which are preserved as examples of the destructive power of EQs.

©1996 United Nations Global Programme for the Integration of Public Administration and the Science of Disasters (UN Department for Development Support and Management Services).

Information used in the chronology on Qinglong County is drawn from interviews with the county during field visits in September 1995 and July 1996. Many of the statistics and some of the quotations come from the following books and newspaper articles:

Chen, Y., T. Kam-ling, F. Chen, Z. Gao, Q. Zou and Z. Chen. 1988. THE GREAT TANGSHAN EARTHQUAKE OF 1976: AN ANATOMY OF DISASTER. Pergamon Press; 153 pp. (in English).

Qian, G. 1986. THE GREAT TANGSHAN EARTHQUAKE. Liberation Army Literature and Art Publishing House (in Chinese).

Qian, G. 1989. THE GREAT CHINA EARTHQUAKE. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press; 354 pp. (in English).

Wang, C. 1991. "Recollections of the Great Tangshan Earthquake". Section on Disasters and Society, CHINA EARTHQUAKE NEWS. July 25: p. 3 (in Chinese).

Wang, J. 1991. "Our Qinglong County did prepare for the Great Tangshan Earthquake". Section on Disasters and Society, CHINA EARTHQUAKE NEWS. July 25: p. 3 (in Chinese).

Documentation research by the United Nations involved over 200 written documents, signed and notarized by the residents and officials of Qinglong County who survived and still remember the Great Tangshan Earthquake (GTE) of 1976. The majority of these documents were written in 1991, in preparation for the 15th anniversary of the GTE.

buttonReturn to The Qinglong County Story