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Search and rescue in Gaza: How long can a person survive under rubble?

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Scenes of death and destruction have been streaming in from Gaza this week as the Israel-Hamas war rages on. Israeli airstrikes in response to Hamas’ surprise attack on Oct. 7 have resulted in the destruction of Gazan infrastructure, including whole civilian neighborhoods and homes.

Those same images show survivors being pulled from the rubble. It’s a familiar scene, one the world has seen in search-and-rescue operations in response to the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars, as well as to the recent earthquakes in Turkey, northeastern Syria, Morocco and elsewhere.

But when it comes to searching for survivors beneath the destruction, the method for extricating people is the same everywhere, says Daniel Aldrich, a Northeastern professor, director of the university’s Security and Resilience Program and co-director at the Global Resilience Institute.

“Digging through rubble by hand — in both industrializing and industrialized countries — is pretty much the norm,” Aldrich says. “You have to do this because you don’t want to destabilize the building and crush people further.”

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