Thursday, February 4, 2010


I had an eerie conversation with a cab driver today. It seems I'm not the only one in Istanbul who was spooked by the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. No, I wasn't the one who brought it up. As we drove through the city, he was pointing to the buildings that would collapse. Our judgment was pretty similar. We agreed that my neighborhood looked pretty good, except for some of the newer buildings.

This judgment, by the way, is shared by the Boğazici University Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, which predicts that only 20 percent of the buildings in my neighborhood would collapse. You might want to look up that report if you live, say, in Avcılar, but I would suggest you move, first.

Some highlights from a 2002 report by the Turkish Court of Accounts, below. (Yes, 2002 was a while ago, but in many neighborhoods the situation has gotten worse, not better.)



by the Turkish Court of Accounts

14. Despite timing of possible Istanbul earthquake is not known precisely,

possibility of its occurrence within 30 years is estimated to be %65.

It is expected that possible earthquake would cause severe damage in

Istanbul. The reason for this assumption is that the number of building in

Istanbul is high, a part of which are unlicensed and illegal and those with

licenses are constructed without performing their ground studies. Adding to

these, building inspections and controls are not effective enough.

In plans prepared by some service groups, it was not considered that

assigned personnel themselves might be earthquake victim and their

substitutes were not designated. (P. 2.32)

Summaryand Recommendations

Plans are not prepared with an approach that puts forward the concepts

of risk and priority. Risks and priorities are not taken into consideration

in the planning. (P. 2.32)

Persons who have a role in the plan do not have necessary training

enabling them to do their share of task. For instance, the knowledge of

personnel trained for search and rescue, is below international standards

of this field, and quality as well as the duration of training is

dramatically insufficient. (P. 2.33)

Although the inventory of equipments to be used for rescue services is

kept, there is no system that monitors and updates the movement and

last status of these equipments. (P. 2.33)


At certain locations found inappropriate for settlement after ground

survey, there are buildings that were constructed beforehand. There is

no plan or project related to these buildings.

Municipalities charged with conducting building development plans do

not have adequate facilities, equipments and personnel to fulfill this

duty in an effective manner. (P. 3.12, 3.13)

Provisions of legislations related to prevention of buildings constructed

without license or against its license cannot be enforced decently.

There are no prevocational and in-service training safeguarding the

professional competence of personnel working at construction sites. (P.


5. Two thirds of Istanbul’s current housing stock is comprised of buildings

with no building permit or certificate of occupancy.

Additionally, in case of a possible earthquake;

Multiple under and over passes as well as viaducts would be damaged;

E-5 and TEM highways would be blocked;

Damages to natural gas network would lead to big explosions and fires

unless the pressure was reduced via an “Early Warning” system;

Ambarlı Thermal Power Plant would be severely damaged, and become

nonfunctional, which would lead to longtime electricity cut in Istanbul

according to assumptions in case of a scenario earthquake.

1.2 There are approximately 1 200 000 privately-owned and over 10 000

public building in Istanbul where more than half of current housing stock is

either unlicensed or contrary to their licenses, and there is no possibility of

deriving sound statistical information as most of the buildings are not


3.2 Experts list main factors transforming an earthquake into a deadly

disaster as follows:

Unplanned housing,

building development

plans contradictory to

science together with

wrong selection of


Illegal, unlicensed


Licensed but

uncontrolled housing;

Lack of legal sanctions

in preventing these



  1. The report is IMHO a must read for everyone interested in this project. That the report came out in 2002 is significant -- it shows this was initiated (and funded, etc.) as a reaction to the 1999 Marmara Earthquake, aka Izmit Earthquake, which cost over 17,000 lives. As people in the medical and IT support fields have long known, 'prevention' is a hard sell. So we need to keep this in mind -- i.e. how to keep the momentum going after Haiti fades from people's minds. BTW it would be great if you could find the original report in Turkish, and post a link to it here as well. Keep up the good work, Claire, and I'll be back with more comments after I finish reading the report.

  2. Exactly. The biggest problem with making this work, in my preliminary opinion, is the absolutely natural human tendency to be irrational about risk. It makes no sense to pour resources into solving the problem after the disaster, but not before, when it would cost a lot less and help a lot more -- but it also makes no sense to fail to wear a seat belt, smoke, or drive rather than take an airplane because planes *feel* more dangerous than cars. People are not rational. That's just a fact; we can't change it. We need to figure out a way to work with -- rather than against -- this aspect of human nature. I don't have any good ideas today, but I'm thinking about the problem.

  3. The link to the original post, in Turkish, is now posted above ...

  4. Did you see this repoert from 2006 to the Turkish PM by a joint study with Japanese and US?
    Article on simple fixes to prevent damage:
    About Bingol and prevention:
    Sozen also wrote a book it seems called Is the Domed city Doomed"
    A report on preformance of school buildings in Turkish quakes: (perhaps the same as Chinese school failures?)
    Using ideas from California to protect industrial buildings:
    Just a few I dug up tonight. Erik

  5. Erik, thanks, these are really important links. I'll post them later today with summaries of the key points.

    I think I need to get in touch with Sozen. Wonder if he's on Facebook ...

  6. @Claire - Prof. Sozen's email address is at end of one of the articles. I think it'd be great if you could get in touch with him. I'm sure he has a lot of knowledge and insight about how we might want to go about doing this, even if these are to be just off-the-record advice and suggestions.

    I'm particularly interested in finding out the current status of various studies, master plans, reports, etc. that were still underway as of 2002 (as mentioned in the Court of Account report), and, if they are now complete or partially complete, whether they'd be accessible to us for our project's use.

    Also important, IMHO, and I'm hopeful that Prof. Sozen might be able to enlighten us on, is how we should go about working with officialdom and with the bureacracy. We'd probably need to be careful to not step on too many toes, and to not get too entangled in local politics unnecessarily.

    @Erik - these are great links you've looked up! Reading some of them actually made me feel more hopeful for some reason.

  7. Back to maintaining momemtum for the project during lulls between major disasters.

    Here's one idea for the part that deals with collecting information and tagging buildings on the map. Let's start by recruiting (probably young and idealistic) volunteers who would hit the pavement, interview folks, and fill out survey questions on their behalf.

    Instead of managing these volunteers centrally, we'll divide them into teams by their natural affinities, e.g. students from one university be in team A, those from another uni be in team B, etc.; with each team given a specific neighborhood to be responsible for.

    If we manage and coordinate the teams right, we should then be able to tap into their natural internal camaraderie and external competitiveness, and use them to maintain the momentum for the project, even as the general public have lost interest.

    For the volunteers, this would have become a competitive game of seeing which teams can get more done faster. Add a little awards, social gatherings, etc. and we should be able to keep this going for quite a while, until something else bad happens somewhere in the world again, to bring us a fresh supply of new volunteers. (Yes it's a sad aspect of human nature -- but we've got to work with what we've got.)

    Anyway, this is just an idea. I think the key here is to try to think outside of the box. Not to fight apathy directly, but to try and see if there might be some other, round-about ways to achive the same results too.

  8. @claymonk, I absolutely don't want to be negative about this idea -- as far as I'm concerned, any idea is worth trying -- but my experience thus far is that we're up against three large cultural barriers: first, there is not much concept of volunteering here; second, there is enormous fatalism; third, there is not much awareness of international news. As far as I've seen, the quake in Haiti did not generate *any* discussion in the media here about Istanbul's own quake preparedness. I find this astonishing, but it's reality. And you've seen how much response my own posts about this to a Facebook group (of people who presumably joined that group because of their interest in the subject) has generated -- zero.

    That said, I think this idea is on the right path -- basically, using Seth Godin's ideas about tribe-building. I've seen that work here, a bit.

    You have no idea how much it means to me to see your comments, by the way. The general lack of response just couldn't be more depressing to me. It's such a bad sign.

  9. @Claire - I don't live in Istanbul, so I don't really know what's happening on the ground; however, when I searched Twitter using keywords 'deprem' and 'depremi', I saw many tweets during the past 24 hours, and learned about the quakes in Eskişehir, in Japan, and in Mexico. Someone's clearly busy reporting in Turkish about quakes from around the world as they happen.

    From these tweets I also got the following links: "İstanbul'da birden fazla deprem bekleniyor" (, and "Deprem kapıda mı?" ( Both quoted foreign experts' reports and warned of the near certainty of a deadly earthquake hitting Istanbul in the near future.

    A search of Facebook using the same keywords of 'deprem' and 'depremi' also turned up some interesting groups. Some of these might be well worth getting to know, even if they don't seem too active, e.g. the group 'istanbul depremi 20xx' ( with its tagline of "SİZCE BİZ BU DEPREM İÇİN HAZIRMIYIZ????" -- seems they are on the same wavelength as you.

    Among the numerous FB groups named DEPREM is this 5-member group from whose wall I found this rather interesting site, where you can click on a map of Turkey and get a list of recent quakes in the region clicked:

    Anyway, these are just some of my Google and Facebook search results. I understand your frustration, but I was just wondering whether you might want to take a closer look at what's happening in the Turkish-language online communities as well. Just an idea...

  10. Claymonk, yes, you're right. I need to make contact with a lot of people, and shouldn't draw any conclusions from the response or lack thereof to a few blog and Facebook posts. You're absolutely right. My main problem right now is an overwhelming backlog of work deadlines (I got nothing done last month, for obvious reasons). I just have to get them off my desk before I can devote myself to this. The research you're doing is great: Will you keep it up in your free time? I'll chase down all of these leads as soon as I get these pieces to the editors who have been waiting patiently for them. I'm also going to try to organize a small conference here among like-minded people in the very near future; perhaps you could join us by Skype.

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