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Israeli researchers have designed a table that can withstand falling debris in the event of an earthquake.

The table's designers, Arthur Brutter and Ido Bruno of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, said it could be particularly valuable in schools, especially those built near geological fault lines or in developing countries, where many buildings are poorly constructed.

People are often advised to crawl under a table if they can't get outside during an earthquake, but the designers said this could cost lives because ordinary furniture tends to collapse under heavy debris.

The 'earthquake-proof' table, for which a patent is pending, is designed to remain upright under the debris expected when a single-storey building collapses, said Bruno, the lead designer.

The maximum expected weight of a falling ceiling is 350 kilogrammes, but the table could withstand up to a tonne, he told SciDev.Net.

Tables could even be arranged to provide passageways for rescue teams to move around a collapsed building when looking for survivors, he added.

The table, which has been nominated for the Designs of the Year award at the Design Museum in London, United Kingdom, is being produced by A. D. Miraz Industries in Israel for use in schools.

"We have made a great effort to create a table that will be light enough for two children to lift, and cheap enough for most schools to purchase," Bruno said. "The cost of the table is approximately 2.5 times that of a standard school table, but it is of high quality so it will last about twice as long."

He said the designers have been talking to overseas investors, "including people working with the United Nations", and that discussions are underway to make the table available in developing countries.

"Such tables are a very good idea as most school buildings, at least in developing countries, will perform poorly in a large quake," said Andrew Charleson, director of the Earthquake Hazard Centre at Victoria University in New Zealand. "Strong tables that will not crush under the weight of a roof will definitely save lives and reduce injuries."

Max Wyss, director of the World Agency of Planetary Monitoring and Earthquake Risk Reduction in Switzerland, said: "A strong table may be useful for protection from falling objects inside a building."

But he warned that it might not be strong enough for the lower floors of multi-storey buildings.

Wyss has designed 'earthquake closets', which can withstand much heavier debris and could increase the chances of surviving a severe earthquake by several orders of magnitude, according to an article he has submitted to Natural Hazards for review.

Bruno agreed that the table was designed to cope with just a single ceiling collapsing, but that further testing is underway.