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  • Writer's pictureTony Putsman

Earthquakes don't kill many people

There is an old saying ‘ Earthquakes don’t kill people- buildings do’

This viewpoint was tragically reinforced in February when a series of earthquakes and aftershocks caused widespread devastation to towns and cities across South-East Turkey and North-West Syria, with a total loss of life in excess of fifty thousand people. The scenes of modern tower blocks collapsing as people stood in the street for fear of aftershocks from the main quake were unforgettable.

Turkey is vulnerable to earthquakes - the North Anatolian fault zone that runs through this part of the country is considered to be the most seismically active fault zone in the world. However, according to structural engineers quoted in New Civil Engineer (NCE), the collapse of an estimated 6,400 buildings across Syria and Turkey could have been avoided.

Imperial College London structural engineering professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering Ahmed Elghazouli said: “There is a clear picture that building regulations haven’t been followed strictly. Away from the big cities, they can be very lax in Turkey.” He believes the regulations relating to seismic resilience are good but are not enforced. “In my honest opinion, the collapses could have been avoided, they should not have occurred,” he said.

Blame for the disaster has generally fallen on the Turkish government and building contractors. However, it is worth reflecting on the fact that there would have been construction professionals – architects, engineers and others - involved with every project. What part did they play in the disregarding of seismic design codes and other structural principles relevant to the buildings that collapsed?

Whilst designing for earthquake resistance may not be a prerequisite for project teams in the UK and other parts of Europe, are we sure that in other aspects of project delivery construction professionals don’t fail to adhere to the highest standards of design and construction practice. The lessons from Grenfell and the need for the new Building Safety Act would suggest that there is considerable room for improvement in the way we discharge our duties to the Client and the wider Society.

(Image courtesy of NCE)

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