Friday, February 26, 2010


I've created a Facebook group for people who are concerned about the seismic hazard to Istanbul. Please feel free to join it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Quake-Prone Cities, Quick Growth Invites Disaster

I'm encouraged to see so much attention to this in the media. That's a start.

The New York Times
February 25, 2010

In Quake-Prone Cities, Quick Growth Invites Disaster

ISTANBUL — As he surveys the streets of this sprawling mega-city, Mustafa Erdik, the director of an earthquake engineering institute here, says he sometimes feels like a doctor scanning a crowded hospital ward.

It is not so much the city’s modern core, where two sleek Trump Towers and a huge airport terminal were built to withstand a major earthquake that is considered all but inevitable in the next few decades. Nor does Dr. Erdik agonize over Istanbul’s ancient monuments, whose yards-thick walls have largely withstood more than a dozen potent seismic blows over the past two millenniums.


His biggest worry is that tens of thousands of buildings throughout the city, erected in a haphazard, uninspected rush as the population soared past 10 million from the 1 million it was just 50 years ago, are what some seismologists call “rubble in waiting.”

“Earthquakes always find the weakest point,” said Dr. Erdik, a professor at Bogazici University here.

Istanbul is one of a host of quake-threatened cities in the developing world where populations have swelled far faster than the capacity to house them safely, setting them up for disaster of a scope that could, in some cases, surpass the devastation in Haiti from last month’s earthquake.

Roger Bilham, a seismologist at the University of Colorado who has spent decades studying major earthquakes around the world, including the recent quake in Haiti, said that the planet’s growing, urbanizing population, projected to swell by two billion more people by midcentury and to require one billion dwellings, faced “an unrecognized weapon of mass destruction: houses.”

Without vastly expanded efforts to change construction practices and educate people, from mayors to masons, on simple ways to bolster structures, he said, Haiti’s tragedy is almost certain to be surpassed sometime this century when a major quake hits Karachi, Pakistan, Katmandu, Nepal, Lima, Peru, or one of a long list of big poor cities facing inevitable major earthquakes.

In Tehran, Iran’s capital, Dr. Bilham has calculated that one million people could die in a predicted quake similar in intensity to the one in Haiti, which the Haitian government estimates killed 230,000. (Some Iranian geologists have pressed their government for decades to move the capital because of the nest of surrounding geologic faults.)

As for Istanbul, a study led by Dr. Erdik mapped out a situation in which a quake could kill 30,000 to 40,000 people and seriously injure 120,000 at the very minimum.

The city is rife with buildings with glaring flaws, like ground floors with walls or columns removed to make way for store displays, or a succession of illegal new floors added in each election period on the presumption that local officials will look the other way. On many blocks, upper floors jut precariously over the sidewalk, taking advantage of an old permitting process that governed only a building’s footprint.

Worse, Dr. Erdik said, as with a doctor’s patients, not all of the potentially deadly problems are visible from the outside, and thousands more buildings are presumed to be at risk. “Little details are very important,” he said. “To say that a building is in bad condition is easy. To say that one is safe is hard.”

Some of Turkey’s biggest builders have readily admitted to using shoddy materials and bad practices in the urban construction boom. In an interview last year with the Turkish publication Referans, Ali Agaoglu, a Turkish developer ranked 468th last year on the Forbes list of billionaires, described how in the 1970s, salty sea sand and scrap iron were routinely used in buildings made of reinforced concrete.

“At that time, this was the best material,” he said, according to a translation of the interview. “Not just us, but all companies were doing the same thing. If an earthquake occurs in Istanbul, not even the army will be able to get in.”

Echoing other engineers and planners trying to reduce Istanbul’s vulnerability, Dr. Erdik said that the best hope, considering the scale of the problem, might well be that economic advancement would happen fast enough that property owners could replace the worst housing stock before the ground heaved.

“If the quake gives us some time, we can reduce the losses just through turnover,” Dr. Erdik said. “If it happens tomorrow, there’ll be a huge number of deaths.”

But when a potent quake hit 50 miles away in 1999, killing more than 18,000 people, including 1,000 on the outskirts of Istanbul, the city was reminded that time might not be on its side. That earthquake occurred on the North Anatolian fault, which runs beneath the Marmara Sea, just a few miles from the city’s crowded southern flanks.

The fault, which is very similar to the San Andreas fault in California, appears to have a pattern of successive failures, meaning the section near Istanbul is probably primed to fail, said Tom Parsons, who has studied the fault for the United States Geological Survey.

Istanbul stands out among threatened cities in developing countries because it is trying to get ahead of the risk.

A first step was an earthquake master plan drawn up for the city and the federal government by Dr. Erdik’s team and researchers at three other Turkish universities in 2006. Such a plan is a rarity outside of rich cities like Tokyo and Los Angeles.

Carrying out its long list of recommendations has proved more challenging, given that the biggest source of political pressure in Istanbul, as with most crowded cities, is not an impending earthquake but traffic, crime, jobs and other real-time troubles.

Nonetheless, with the urgency amplified by the lessons from Haiti’s devastation, Istanbul is doing what it can to gird for its own disaster.

The effort to prepare is coming from the top, with tighter building codes, mandatory earthquake insurance and loans from international development banks for buttressing or replacing vulnerable schools and other public buildings.

But a push is also coming from the bottom, as nonprofit groups, recognizing the limits of centralized planning, train dozens of teams of volunteers in poor districts and outfit them with radios, crowbars and first-aid kits so they can dig into the wreckage when their neighborhoods are shaken.

Mahmut Bas, who leads the city’s Directorate of Earthquake and Ground Analysis, is charged with consolidating and coordinating everything from building inspections to emergency response. Yet the bureaucracy is almost as sprawling and inefficient as the dizzying web of smog-shrouded streets, clogged with an estimated six million vehicles.

Mr. Bas said collapsing buildings were just one of many threats. One prediction about a potent quake concluded that 30,000 natural gas lines were likely to rupture. “If just 10 percent catch fire, that’s 3,000 fires,” he said, adding that the city’s fire stations are able to handle at most 30 to 40 fires in one day.

Still, keeping vital structures standing — those fire stations, hospitals and schools — remains the prime priority.

Under a program financed with more than $800 million in loans from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, and more in the pipeline from other international sources, Turkey is in the early stages of bolstering hundreds of the most vulnerable schools in Istanbul, along with important public buildings and more than 50 hospitals.

With about half of the nearly 700 schools assessed as high priorities retrofitted or replaced so far, progress is too slow to suit many Turkish engineers and geologists tracking the threat. But in districts where the work has been done or is under way — those closest to the Marmara Sea and the fault — students, parents and teachers express a sense of relief tempered by the knowledge that renovations only cut the odds of calamity.

“I hope it’s enough,” said Serkan Erdogan, an English teacher at the Bakirkoy Cumhuriyet primary school close to the Marmara coast, where $315,000 was spent to add reinforced walls, jackets of fresh concrete and steel rebar around old columns and to make adjustments as simple as changing classroom doors to open outward, easing evacuations.

“The improvements are great, but the building may still collapse,” he said. “We have to learn how to live with that risk. The children need to know what they should do.”

In a fifth-grade classroom, the student training that goes with the structural repairs was evident as Nazan Sati, a social worker, asked the 11-year-olds what they would do if an earthquake struck right at that moment.

At first a forest of hands shot toward the ceiling. Ms. Sati quickly told them to show, not tell. In a mad, giggling scramble, the students dove beneath their desks.

But the threat for children, and their parents, also lies outside the school walls, in mile upon mile of neighborhoods filled with structures called gecekondu, meaning “landed overnight,” because they were constructed seemingly instantly as hundreds of thousands of migrants from rural regions flowed into the city seeking work in the past decade or two.

That kind of construction is commonplace in many of the world’s most unstable seismic zones. Dr. Bilham at the University of Colorado has estimated that an engineer is involved in just 3 percent of the construction under way around the world.

Peter Yanev, who has advised the World Bank and the insurance industry on earthquake engineering and is the author of “Peace of Mind in Earthquake Country,” noted that in Turkey and other developing countries, even when someone with an engineering degree was involved, that was no guarantee of safe construction because there was little specialized training or licensing.

In the face of such problems, efforts are under way in Istanbul’s crowded working-class and poor neighborhoods to train and equip several thousand volunteers to be ready to respond when, not if, the worst happens.

On a sunny Saturday morning, Mustafa Elvan Cantekin, who directs the Neighborhood Disaster Support Project, navigated back streets to meet with one team deep in the city’s Bagcilar district, where one estimate projects that some 4,200 people would be likely to die in a major earthquake.

Dr. Cantekin, a Turkish engineer educated at Texas A&M University and tested in the 1999 earthquake zone, has helped create 49 neighborhood teams in the city, each with a shipping container loaded with crowbars, generators, stretchers and other emergency gear.

Through the project, paid for by a Swiss development agency and private companies, he has traveled to Morocco, Jordan and Iran to help initiate programs there based on Istanbul’s.

A map on his lap showed that the neighborhood was on the border of red and orange danger zones delineating the worst seismic risks. He pointed to one building after another where there was no permanent roof but instead columns poking skyward in anticipation of a landlord finding a new tenant and adding yet another unlicensed floor — and another layer of risk.

As his car crawled through mazes of traffic-choked streets, Mr. Cantekin said the harsh reality for the dozens of small communities within a mega-city, as with the residents of shattered towns in Sichuan Province in China after the 2008 earthquake there, was that they would have to be self-reliant when the quake hit.

“China has the biggest civil defense capability in the world, but it still took three or four days to reach the collapsed towns,” he said. “If there is the big one here, you are all alone to cope with whatever you have, at least for the first 72 hours.”

Outside a community center where children sat at computers playing Farmville on Facebook, Mr. Cantekin inspected the container contents with the team leader, Cuma Cetin, 36, a father of five and a factory worker.

“We’re not waiting for the disaster,” Mr. Cetin said as he and his team, dressed in orange coveralls, accompanied Mr. Cantekin while he pointed out fatal flaws in nearby buildings.

Along an avenue that was a stream bed four decades ago, in a spot where houses were built on sediment instead of bedrock and thus particularly vulnerable, Mr. Cantekin led the team into a ground-floor area beneath four stories of apartments with laundry flapping in the breeze on balcony after balcony.

The columns holding up this part of the building are too thin, he said, pointing to cracks that have already scarred the concrete surface.

“This is one of the first to go,” Mr. Cantekin said, before they walked on to the next one.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction,"

Under the world's greatest cities, deadly plates

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Megacities are something new on the planet. Earthquakes are something very old. The two are a lethal combination, as seen in the recent tragedy in Port-au-Prince, where more than 200,000 people perished -- a catastrophe that scientists say is certain to be repeated somewhere, and probably soon, with death tolls that once again stagger the mind.


n many vulnerable cities, people are effectively stacked on top of one another in buildings designed as if earthquakes don't happen. It is not the tremor that kills people in an earthquake but the buildings, routinely constructed on the cheap, using faulty designs and, in some cities, overseen by corrupt inspectors. The difference between life and death is often a matter of how much sand went into the cement or how much steel into a supporting column. Earthquakes might be viewed as acts of God, but their lethality is often a function of masonry.

"In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction," Bilham writes in the journal Nature.


Brian Tucker, an earth scientist who leads GeoHazards International, said 10 percent of the money going to help Haiti rebuild should be dedicated to mitigating the destruction in earthquakes. But he also knows from many years of sounding warnings about possible earthquakes that people tend to be complacent about catastrophes that have yet to happen.

"People who advocate diet and exercise are chumps, and heart surgeons are heroes," Tucker said.

Bilham said he would like to see the United Nations develop a building-inspection program akin to its efforts to look for banned nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Zoback, likewise, is impatient for action that could save lives:

"We know where the problems are. We know what to do. We know how to fix it. We just need the political will."

New construction after quake in Turkey on shaky ground

Many buildings in Turkey risk being destroyed in an earthquake because the law passed after the 1999 quake covers only 19 provinces. In 62 provinces, many of which are in first-degree quake zones, 10 to 30 percent of buildings are below standard and are structurally vulnerable. Experts are calling for a new countrywide system of standards and controls on construction
New construction after quake in Turkey on shaky ground

The general advice for people seeking a house in Turkey to find one built after the 1999 Marmara earthquake may sound solid, but the wisdom doesn’t hold true in 62 provinces.

It is common for people to prefer a house built after the earthquake because of the popular belief that legislation passed shortly after the quake strengthened construction control mechanisms and the quality of buildings. But a recently revealed report by the Public Works Ministry nulls that idea.

Buildings in 62 provinces are under threat of being destroyed in an earthquake because they fall short of structural standards implemented in Turkey’s other 19 provinces after the 1999 Marmara quake, according to the “Residence Control Report.”

The daily Radikal disclosed the report and wrote that it had been hidden like a secret. According to the report, between 10 and 30 percent of houses in the 62 provinces are under risk while the situation in the 19 provinces is positive because the construction controls were properly applied.

"This report clearly indicates that the law on controlling construction cannot sufficiently provide a reliable control mechanism. The ministry has been too slow to offer proper regulations. The control process has completely broken down,” Eyüp Muhçu, head of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

In Turkey’s 81 provinces, the ministry inspected more than 3,200 buildings to test their bearing capacity and other relevant issues. At least 40 buildings in each province were checked. There has been a significant rise in the quality of buildings in the 19 provinces where the controls are in place, the report concluded. The ministry also determined that in the 19 provinces a test that measures the elasticity capacity of steel material was performed in around 97 percent of the buildings.

But when it comes to the provinces outside the jurisdiction of the law, the ministry’s report reveals a tragic picture. Although in a quake zone, many buildings in eastern Anatolian cities are arguably waiting to be destroyed in an earthquake. The percentage of buildings with improperly built load-bearing systems is between 10 and 30 percent.

Moreover, the percentage of buildings that underwent proper testing to measure structural strength was low in those cities. The provinces outside of the law but in first-degree quake zones are the Anatolian provinces of Şırnak, Hakkâri, Siirt, Muş, Bingöl, Adıyaman, Kahramanmaraş, Tunceli, Erzincan, Tokat, Amasya, Çankırı, Karabük, Bilecik, Muğla, Afyon, Uşak, Burdur, Isparta. Meanwhile, the 19 pilot provinces are Adana, Ankara, Antalya, Aydın, Balıkesir, Bolu, Bursa, Çanakkale, Denizli, Düzce, Eskişehir, Gaziantep, Hatay, İstanbul, İzmir, Kocaeli, Sakarya, Tekirdağ and Yalova.

The report was presented to Public Works Minister Mustafa Demir a couple of months ago, but nothing was done to bring all the provinces under an efficient control mechanism, daily Radikal reported.

“We urgently need a new system to restore control over construction. The current mechanism is not working properly. It is still unclear whether institutions that are supposed to implement control mechanisms are using objective criteria,” said Tayfun Kahraman, head of the Istanbul Chamber of City Planners.

Istanbul Chamber of Architect’s head Muhcu also said Turkey needs a new countrywide control process based on scientific principles and more participation if the country is to have a reliable control system for construction. “It should be a countrywide control process rather than a system based on pilot-region practices,” he said.

“Everything should be changed and we need a new law to make these drastic changes,” said Kahraman, adding that the builders should consult experts like city planners, engineers and architects.

Muhcu said the control mechanism under the current law does not work as it should. “Even buildings constructed by state-run institutions and TOKİ [the Housing Development Administration] are not within the scope of this law,” he said.

“Universities, municipalities and all actors along the control process should contribute to a new system that can be implemented in all provinces across the country,” he said.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


I have just received this insanely pointless warning from the Warden of the US Consulate General in Istanbul:

Consulate General Istanbul Warden Message #1


The Department of State has issued this Worldwide Caution to update information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. U.S. citizens are reminded to maintain a high level of vigilance and to take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated July 29, 2009 to provide updated information on security threats and terrorist activities worldwide.

The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. Americans are reminded that demonstrations and rioting can occur with little or no warning. Current information suggests that al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings.

It goes on to detail pretty much every recent act of violence committed in the world, then notes:

Potential targets are not limited to those companies or establishments with overt U.S. ties. For instance, terrorists may target movie theaters, liquor stores,bars, casinos, or any similar type of establishment, regardless of whether they are owned and operated by host country nationals. Due to varying degrees of security at all such locations, Americans should be particularly vigilant when visiting these establishments. ... Anti-American violence could include possible terrorist actions against aviation, ground transportation, and maritime interests, specifically in the Middle East, including the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, and North Africa. ... . Extremists may be surveilling Westerners, particularly at hotels, housing areas, and rental car facilities ...

It provides not one bit of information about a specific, credible threat, nor any reasonable advice beyond "be vigilant."

I'm really losing my patience with the State Department. Time to outsource them to Twitter.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Turkish gov't calls for 'buffer zones' to protect cities from earthquakes

Turkey’s ruling government is calling for new regulations on development near fault lines that would restrict construction to a certain distance depending on the depth of the fault and require that current structures are relocated or vacated in time. Experts say the government’s plan is ambitious and well intentioned but useless in the long runNew regulations to reduce the number of deaths in the much-debated “impending big earthquake” in Turkey include strict development rules near fault lines, but experts say the buffer zones would not be useful, especially for Istanbul.
Experts said such precautions should only be applied to certain fault lines and not to Istanbul because the fault line through the city snakes beneath the Sea of Marmara, not under the city itself. But many other Turkish cities also suffer from seismic threats because of developed areas that are built over fault lines and the buffer zones may be helpful in deterring construction too close to the faults.
The Turkish public has been discussing precautions against a possible earthquake since the Aug. 17, 1999, Gölcük earthquake in the Marmara region that killed nearly 20,000 people and razed entire urban areas to the ground.To mitigate an earthquake’s possible effects, the government’s proposal envisions the construction of buffer zones on active fault lines and the banning of any construction or settlements in these areas, according to the daily Milliyet.
The draft, prepared by the Earthquake Department under the Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Department, said the buffer zones would extend to “75, 150 or 250 meters on each side of the fault lines.” For fault lines that are larger than others, however, the draft calls for proportionally larger buffer zones.
Buildings that are already located in the proposed buffer zones will be reinforced and permitted to remain in use until their economic life is complete. An international report released in 2007 predicted an earthquake of 7.5 on the Richter scale in Istanbul within three decades.
İdris Güllüce, head of the Parliamentary Earthquake Commission as well as a deputy for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, said he was “terrified” and “unable to sleep” after reading the report prepared by Japanese experts, according to a Feb. 6 Anatolia news agency story.
Seismologists contacted by the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, however, said such buffer zones would have few benefits if implemented in Istanbul. “The fault line lies under the Sea of Marmara and the closest fault line to Istanbul is eight kilometers away,” said Professor Celal Şengör of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences at Istanbul Technical University.
Şengör also said he does not take the Prime Ministry report seriously because they do not follow up-to-date reports about earthquakes.“They read the facts about a possible Istanbul earthquake from second-hand sources, but we have conducted research ourselves and have been discussing these problems for many years now,” said Şengör in reference to Güllüce’s speech.
He said the buffer zone approach could provide a precaution for the rest of Turkey, but was not a truly effective solution.
Professor Aral I. Okay, also of the Eurasia Institute of Earth Sciences, told the Daily News that experts usually predict that earthquakes will occur on an active fault line or a fault line that was damaged during a previous quake. Because of this, mapping these lines and preparing buffer zones could be beneficial just in knowing where they are but in the long run they would be useless for Istanbul, he said.
An area is damaged during earthquakes depending on its distance from a fault line, yet other factors also affect the scope of the damage, said Okay, adding that the structure of the surface as well as quality and resistance of the buildings are also significant factors.
Murat Nurlu, head of the Earthquake Department, informed the parliamentary commission of the draft regulation and said a change of regulations would be implemented as had already been done in the United States and New Zealand.
“The regulations of the European Union and the U.S. should be a basis for Turkey’s regulatory changes,” said an expert from an Ankara-based association, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Mining Exploration Institute, or MTA, will prepare a 1/25,000 scale map including current data about fault lines with plans to renew the map in four years, according to the draft regulation prepared by experts Ramazan Demirtaş and Murat Yavaş. The regulation says the buffer zones will be identified after the geographical location and characteristics of the active fault lines are determined.


An unusually astute article about the social and emotional ramifications of living in a society where there is low trust in the government's ability to ensure public safety.

Interest in psychiatry not a class issue

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Monday, February 15, 2010


Crimes committed within families are increasing in Turkey, says Professor Yankı Yazgan, a prominent psychiatrist, adding that the feeling of trust in authorities is decreasing. This leads to feelings of "ambiguity" and having to "take care of one’s self," which is at the core of depression, he says.

Breaking the myth that only the wealthy and upper-middle class segments of society have the luxury to visit psychiatrists, a prominent psychiatrist says the interest in psychiatry is growing among all social levels in Turkey.Professor Yankı Yazgan has worked as a psychiatrist for around 20 years, becoming famous among younger generations through the puzzles he wrote for the daily Cumhuriyet.

Yazgan was also featured on news bulletins speaking about trauma in the wake of disasters, particularly after the major 1999 earthquake that hit the Marmara region. Yazgan mainly works with children and adolescents.There is huge interest from people at the psychiatry clinics of public hospitals that have resulted in waiting lists, Yazgan said.Parents are now more aware of their children’s problems, their success in schools and mental health, he said, adding that he has colleagues in Anatolian cities and that many people have shown great interest in psychiatry clinics in hospitals there as well.

“People know they should visit psychiatrists [for relevant problems], but they do not know through which channels they can do that,” Yazgan said. For instance, it can be difficult to get an appointment from a public hospital while hundreds of people wait in line everyday while many public authorities do not fulfill their responsibilities in this area or, if they do, the needs are not seen as very large, he said.Trust in authorities decreasing.

According to Yazgan’s observations of Turkish society, people increasingly feel they need to take care of themselves. “The feeling of security is decreasing,” he said. For instance, if people rescue their own friends from a flood, while authorities cannot, the feeling of having to take care of one’s self increases, he said in reference to the latest flood disaster in the southern province of Antalya.There, a man who was stuck on a tree after a flood hit the province could not be rescued by emergency services and died after many hours while his friend, who was holding onto the same tree, was eventually rescued by his friends.

As a result, Yazgan said, people could stop expecting anything from elders and authorities. “These feelings are at the core of depression,” Yazgan said, referring to the feeling of ambiguity and the need to look out for one’s self. As long as the authorities assure safety, bullying between individuals is free, Yazgan said, describing the current atmosphere as a reason to injure people’s feelings of safety. “Look at parents; they can leave the solution to a fight between siblings to them, but they punish the children more harshly if they disrespect one of the parents.

”The earthquake in the Marmara region in 1999 also affected this situation, he said. The trauma it created and the insufficiency in healing this trauma further caused a lack of trust. “After the quake, rather than questioning how safe Istanbul is, the city has become exaggerated, as with the European Capital of Culture,” he said. Yazgan also said there has been an increase in crimes committed within families, such as child abuse, maltreatment and even murder.

“It is not only about an exaggeration of media,” he said.The situation in Turkey is not that different from the one in the United States regarding these crimes, he said, except for the higher levels of drug addiction in children in the United States. “However, there is a great threat for this in Turkey, too.”

Yazgan graduated from Ege University Medical School in İzmir and before studying psychiatry at Marmara University. Later on, he studied child and adolescent psychiatry at Yale University in the United States.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Why did so many people die in Haiti's quake?

Why did so many people die in Haiti's quake?

By Lucy Rodgers
BBC News

The devastating earthquakes that hit China on 12 May 2008, Italy on 6 April 2009 and Haiti one month ago all measured above 6.0 and took many lives. But why was the human cost so much greater for Haiti?

Graphic showing strength of the quakes

When Pete Garratt, Red Cross head of disaster relief, received an alert on 12 January indicating a large quake had hit Haiti near its capital Port-au-Prince, he instantly recognised the seriousness of the emergency.

"I knew that meant deaths and injuries," he says.


These countries have less money to put into buildings and there is less governance ensuring building codes are followed," Mr Garratt explains.

"Corruption can also be an issue and so, even when there are government structures to ensure building codes are followed, there are bribes that enable people to take short cuts.

"Put simply - there are the technical elements of the earthquake and then the social elements on top of that."


The resulting scale of destruction - of infrastructure, of government and other official organisations - also made it much more difficult to respond once the earthquake hit and had an impact on the number of people rescued from the rubble.


Full article here.


One of my readers, Bayram Yıldızoğlu, is the head of this company, which makes a wall-coating, like a wallpaper, that reduces the risk of building collapse in an earthquake. I don't know much about this idea, but find it interesting. Does this idea really have the potential to mitigate risk in neighborhoods where proper retrofitting is not economically or politically feasible? I'd be curious to know what people who would be in a better position than me to evaluate this think.


Strong quake will decimate Istanbul, new scenario says

August 21, 1999: Residents stand atop a collapsed building in the city of Gölcük, 100 kilometers east of Istanbul. That quake, known as the Marmara quake, killed thousands of people in western Turkey. AP Photo

August 21, 1999: Residents stand atop a collapsed building in the city of Gölcük, 100 kilometers east of Istanbul. That quake, known as the Marmara quake, killed thousands of people in western Turkey. AP Photo

A strong earthquake could kill up to 32,000 people if it strikes Istanbul, according to a quake scenario published by the Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate.

Like many areas of Turkey, Istanbul lies close to major fault lines and has been previously hit by fatal quakes several times.

Another 81,828 people could be badly injured and more than a million could be left homeless in the event of a quake measuring at least 7 on the Richter scale with an epicenter in the Marmara Sea, according to the scenario, which was published last week.

The scenario was drafted by Professor Bülent Özmen, an academic from Gazi University in Ankara, and submitted to the Parliamentary Earthquake Research Committee by Murat Nurlu, the head of the Earthquake Directorate.

According to the scenario, 96 percent of Turkey faces a risk of quakes of varying strengths and 66 percent of the country lies on active fault lines.

The report stressed that the seismic hazard for regions where 70 percent of the country’s population lives and 75 percent of the areas hosting huge industry zones could be “tremendously” high.

According to the report, 223 devastating quakes hit Turkey between the years 1900 and 2009, killing a total of 86,000 people and either leveling or badly damaging 549,000 buildings.

The latest scenario envisions an earthquake with its epicenter in the Marmara Sea along the North Anatolian Fault Line, a major active geologic fault in northern Anatolia that runs along the tectonic boundary between the Anatolian and Eurasian plates. A strong quake measuring over 7 on the Richter scale is expected to hit Istanbul in this region.

The report did not provide a forecast time for an earthquake. Experts have previously said there is a 50 percent chance of a quake with a magnitude of at least 7 hitting the city within the next 30 years.

According to a report submitted by the Japan International Agency, or JICA, to Istanbul’s provincial council, a strong quake could kill up to 90,000 people living in Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city.

The survey, conducted by four Japanese and 10 Turkish scientists and a team of engineers, stated that material damage could be $40 billion if there were a 7.7-magnitude earthquake in the city.

The provincial council had envisioned a an earthquake master plan to cope with a critical quake scenario. The council assessed the strength of buildings and pulling them down or reinforcing them if necessary.

Some 18,000 people, 1,000 of them in Istanbul, were killed in a 7.4-magnitude earthquake in northwest Turkey in August 1999.


I get the sense that the earthquake in Haiti did not deeply register here in Turkey. A few people noticed it, but I have the feeling it was not on the news 24 hours a day. It didn't really sink in. I was told when I got back that the news coverage was light, and focused mainly on the small Turkish Red Crescent delegation sent in the immediate aftermath.

It's normal that I paid attention to it more than most people -- my family was there, after all. But it also reflects some of the pathologies of Turkish culture. As a friend of mine noted, Turks don't really believe in something unless it's happening right in front of them. Most Turks think day-to-day, not long-term -- you can observe this in many aspects of Turkish economic development. The emphasis, on both the personal and national level, is rarely on long-term investment (as opposed to get-rich-quick schemes). And there is a doggedly stubborn inability to view risk rationally or solve problems cooperatively.

An engineer I spoke to the other day described one of the problems of doing retrofitting: It's costly, of course, but not as costly as a $40 billion dollars worth of post-quake cleanup. The issue is not so much the cost (if you look at it in that way, which is to say, rationally), but that to retrofit a building, you have to evacuate the inhabitants for six months. You could substantially reduce the costs through economies of scale -- retrofitting whole neighborhoods at a time. But trust in the government here is so low that were it announced, "We will make your buildings safe, but we need you to evacuate them for six months," no one would believe this was really the genuine intention. People would assume their property was to be permanently appropriated and sold to rich developers.

They might not even be wrong.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I don't mean to be cryptic here. I'm just in a hurry. I've received a few e-mails and phone calls today that have given me a shyly optimistic feeling. I think more people paid attention to what I've been saying this past month than I realized. Perhaps it might result in something getting achieved.

God, I hope so.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Full transcript here.

GEOFFREY KING: The earthquake that we expect would happen close to Istanbul will be as big, or bigger, than Izmit. Izmit killed 20,000 or even 30,000 people. The population density around Iz, Istanbul is ten times greater. The scale of the catastrophe to a European city is almost unimaginable.

NARRATOR: What makes this forecast so worrying is that many buildings have not been built to withstand a disaster of this kind.

CELAL SENGOR: We are now in one of the poorest parts of Istanbul. You can imagine that the buildings around us are not of the best quality. When the earthquake hits parts of these buildings will fall down, people will be trapped in them. Some of the people will be able to get out. Some of these streets have natural gas pipelines going under them. They will burst, right. You'll have fires rising. People will try to run away, they'll be ruined, they will try to clamber up, up. Rescue units will try to reach them. It will be complete mayhem in Istanbul if that happened.

NARRATOR: No one can yet tell when the earthquake storm will strike. The forecast simply cannot do this. It could be in 100 years time, it could be tomorrow. The scientists have at least identified where it is likely to hit next. This means there is still time to prepare.

GEOFFREY KING: The stress has been building up in Istanbul. We know there's going to be an earthquake. We don't really know when there's going to be an earthquake, but we know it'll be a major earthquake. Buildings can be improved, construction can be modified, emergency services can become better organised. There are very many things that can be done and this will bring the death toll down by ten times, or even 100 times and it is completely possible and it is economically feasible.

NARRATOR: So the forecast comes with hope. There is a chance this time that the people of Turkey can be prepared where the disaster strikes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

This sort of sums up the problem, really.

Swine flu does not exist, says Bahçeli

“We have not taken any measures (against the H1N1 virus commonly known as swine flu). Everything is up to God’s will,” said Bahçeli, Anatolia news agency reported.

“The health minister tries to convince everyone to be vaccinated but I think he should convince the prime minister first of its necessity. As the prime minister approaches any issue ideologically, his decision on the vaccination must be ideological, too,” said Baykal.


A lot of the work of advance-mapping has been done, and the idea of using SMS messages as part of a rapid response system is already part of the city's plan. I don't think it would be hard at all to integrate crowd-sourced information about potential hazards into these plans.

To assist in the reduction of losses in a disastrous earthquake in Istanbul a dense strong motion network is established. One hundred strong motion accelerometers have been placed in populated areas of Istanbul, within an area of approximately 50x30km, to constitute a network that will enable rapid shake map and damage assessment after a damaging earthquake. After triggered by an earthquake, each station will process the streaming strong motion to yield the spectral accelerations at specific periods and will send these parameters in the form of SMS messages to the main data center in KOERI through ARIA GSM network service. A shake map and damage distribution will be automatically generated. For transmission of the Rapid Response information to the concerned agencies (Istanbul Governorate, First Army Headquarters and Istanbul Municipality) through reliable and redundant communication channels: digital radio modem and GPRS communication systems are used.
Apparently the municipalities have already been mapping buildings that are expected to collapse, but given what I've seen firsthand of the way municipalities respond to these hazards, I'm not filled with faith by this news.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I was taking another walk through my neighborhood yesterday and gaming out, in my head, what would probably happen here after an earthquake as big as the one expected.

There would be a military coup, for sure. Connoisseurs of Turkish politics will be familiar with the words "Sledgehammer," "Cage," "Emasya Protocols," and Blonde Girl." Lately the press has been full of lurid claims that the military has been scheming to create a pretext for a coup by bombing mosques or provoking Greek fighter jets. Whether or not this is true, it's pretty clear that this country isn't far from a coup on the best of days. In the aftermath of an event like that, it would be inevitable. It would probably have a lot of popular support from an enraged public, initially. Frankly, it would have my support -- as you can see clearly in Haiti, the most important thing after it happens is to have someone running the show. Anything to maintain security.

But we all know what happens here after a coup. Another generation of intellectuals would die, be imprisoned, go into exile. It would be the end of all attempts here to build civil society. Human rights? Forget it. Democracy? Forget that, too, for a good long time. And how long could the army hold on to power? Things are different here now than they were after the last three coups. The centrifugal pressures on Turkey are extreme. Ethnic tension seems to be mounting in ways it hasn't before; the polarity between the politically religious and the politically secular seems more acute than ever before in the history of the Republic. Any economic progress the country has made in the past decade would be erased, and quickly. It is not hard to imagine how bad it could get.

Whenever the inevitable disasters happen, the nutcases here gain traction. After the flooding last fall, I saw a proliferation of Islamist and communist graffiti, websites, banners, propaganda. The nice Islamists who run the corner grocery down the street from me were muttering darkly to themselves, watching the 24-hour Koran-a-thon station.

Even people who don't much care about Turkish lives should be able to see that the death and displacement of half a million Turks in an earthquake would be the end of any hope of stability and peace in this region. This is actually a problem people outside of Turkey might really wish to consider.

And no one seems to give a damn. “This is Turkey,” they say. “Nothing can be done.”

I’m appalled by this wall of passivity and fatalism —this isn't abstract. Hundreds of thousands of people will die because of shoddy construction and corruption, tens of thousands already have, and everyone goes along, lambs to the slaughter, murmuring we’re all powerless, it's so sad, we’re all powerless, would you like some more tea before they kill us? “Nothing can be done, it’s Turkey” ... “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown” ...