Sunday, March 28, 2010


All the action for now is here, on Facebook. Soon we'll have a new, searchable Jor El website and blog, thanks to Hilary Chan.

If you're looking for action, or more specifically, letters to Penthouse, I think you have to go to their website and pay for that. Contrary to rumors, I'm not really an expert about how to find those.

However, since I have your attention, let me ask you a question. Do you live in a seismically active area? Have you considered stocking up on food, water and any medication you might need after an earthquake? Have you bolted heavy furniture to your walls and moved anything that could fall on you away from your bed? Does your apartment or house conform to modern seismic safety codes? If not, you've got bigger worries than finding letters to Penthouse.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What works?

A consistent theme -- both on the Jor El wall and in the e-mail people send me -- is that Istanbul's earthquake risk mitigation problem is impossible to solve because too many of the institutions that should be involved in solving it are corrupt or dysfunctional.

I completely agree that the problem is extremely difficult to solve. I also agree that many of Turkey's institutions don't work well. But I'm not sure that every relevant system is so dysfunctional that no scheme for risk mitigation could possibly succeed.

Turkey isn't a failed state. Many things here do work. If you're in Istanbul, look out your window: You don't see anyone shooting anyone, starving to death, or dying of epidemic disease. The grocery stores are full of food. Levels of street crime are low. You're looking at a vibrant city with a fairly advanced infrastructure. Problems, yes. A basket case, no.

I think it's reasonable to notice all the obstacles to putting our ideas into action -- of course it is -- but I wonder if we shouldn't spend a bit of time thinking about why Istanbul is doing so well, given all the institutional obstacles to getting anything done. Some systems and institutions here obviously do work. Which ones are they?

Wouldn't it make more sense to focus on working with systems that are already working, rather than against the ones that don't? We're not, after all, realistically going to be able to reform the constitution, the legal system, the Turkish press, or the bureaucracy.

What's already working well in Istanbul, and how can these groups and systems help us to solve this problem?

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Yesterday Cağri and I celebrated Istanbul's first Jor El Earthquake Preparation Day. We declared the holiday yesterday morning.

First, we did our own earthquake preparation. We went down to Kadiköy to buy high-powered flashlights, radios, a big stock of batteries, and other obvious things to have on hand. (Anyone who wants a list of things they should do if they live in a seismically active zone, feel free to contact me or check the tab in the Notes section of the Jor El Facebook page.) We arranged to have someone come over and secure my heavy furniture to the wall. I've still got to get a few more things, but those were the most important.

We both noted how much better we felt for having done the basic preparation. You can't control everything, but it takes a big weight off to know you've controlled what you reasonably can. Denial saps energy. Pushing the thought, "I'm not prepared" out of your head is actually a lot of work.

We then went to the Bereketzade muhtar to discuss the neighborhood's earthquake plans. For those who don't live here, the muhtarlık is the smallest level of local government--the neighborhood councilman, in effect. I was very curious to see how well this would work. All things considered, I thought it went very well.

Cağri was initially annoyed because he wasn't where he was supposed to be: His daughter was in the office, but didn't know where he was or what to do in his absence. But we found him pretty quickly; he was selling real estate down the street. Cağri was fit to be tied by this, asking me why a local elected official thought he should be unavailable to the public and pursuing another job on taxpayer time, but I didn't think it was all that problematic, really. We found him quickly, and he was very willing to talk to us and take what we were saying seriously. A note on his office door saying, "I'm two blocks down the street selling real estate, but here's my number, and my door down the street is always open to the public" would have been nice, but it certainly wasn't impossible for a determined local resident to find him.

At the suggestion of one of Jor El's members, we brought him a nice box of lokum. He seemed delighted to speak to us (if perhaps slightly saddened that we didn't want to buy real estate). We explained why we were there. He at first said that there was nothing the local government could do: We were lucky, on the one hand, because the ground in our neighborhood was good, but there was no local helicopter landing port, no emergency plan, no storehouse with emergency supplies. So we had best all just pray it never happens.

We explained that actually there was quite a bit we could do. I mentioned encouraging people, for example, to secure their heavy items to walls (and pointed to his unsecured cabinets), making sure they had information about the importance of moving heavy furniture away from their beds, reminding them to stock up on food and water, telling people what to do during and in the immediate aftermath of a quake. We gave him pamphlets and literature from MAY, and invited him to come to our meeting with MAY on the 25th. He seemed very enthusiastic, and agreed to come or to send someone on his behalf.

I thought this was highly encouraging. I really believe people want to know how to survive an earthquake, and are happy to learn that there are things they can do, personally, to protect themselves and their families.

Cağri was demoralized, however, because a woman in his office -- we have no idea who she was -- told us that we should stop worrying about it and trust in God, who would protect us from earthquakes if our faith was sufficient. She scolded us for trying to panic people and intimated that I must have an ulterior motive in this, seeing as I was American.

As I said to Cağri afterwards -- sure, people will say that. If many people here didn't think that way, there would be no problem to solve, right? But I thought the main thing, the important thing, was the muhtar's receptiveness to the message and his willingness to work with us.

I'm curious to know how other people's visits have gone.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I know it's kind of a cliche to marvel at the weirdness of the search terms that have led people to your blog, but "My AK-47 keeps jamming" really does stand out.

He's in Florida, and I kind of doubt his neighbors want him to solve this problem.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mücadeleyi Öğrenme

5 Mart 2010, Cuma


Geçen Çarşamba günü yüz yüze gerçekleşen ilk Jor El İstanbul toplantısının iyi bir başlangıç olduğunu düşünüyorum. Hepimiz İstanbul depreminin taşıdığı ciddi risk ve İstanbul deprem/felaket hazırlıklarının yetersizliği konusunda hemfikiriz.

MAY ve LIDAM projeleri genel koordinatörü ile 25 Mart günü 16:30-18:00 saatleri arasında Gayrettepe’de görüşeceğiz. Ayrıca bireysel olarak mahalle muhtarlarımızla da teke tek görüşüp kendi bölgelerimizin deprem hazırlıkları konusunda bilgi sahibi olmayı planlıyoruz. Muhtarlarımıza bu planlar ve geliştirilmeleri konusunda işbirliği yapmayı önereceğiz. Ayrıca bu çalışmaları bölgemizdeki diğer insanlara anlatmayı amaçlıyoruz.

Toplantıda oldukça sarsıcı noktalar dile getirildi. Grubun diğer üyelerinin de bu noktaların saptanmasına katkıda bulunacaklarını umuyorum. Bu önemli noktaların İngilizce değil, Türkçe paylaşılması gerekir. Ancak benim Türkçem bunun için yetersiz.

Öne çıkan konular arasında en çarpıcı olanı şuydu: Bir grup üyesinin ifadesine göre Kâğıthane’deki bir okulun güçlendirme çalışmalarının yapılmış olmasına rağmen bina hiç de güvenli değil. Güçlendirme çalışması için 350.000 TL harcanmış ama binanın temeli sadece 16 cm derinliğinde. Bu üyemiz, güçlendirme işinin kontrolünü üstlenen mühendisin de “Ben çocuğumu bu okula göndermem” dediğini sözlerine ekledi. Ayrıca bu durumun güçlendirildiği söylenen pek çok okul için de geçerli olduğuna inandığını belirtti.

Fazla ayrıntıya girmek istemediği için bu üyemizin söylediklerini hemen kanıtlayamam. Ancak doğruluk ihtimalinin bulunması bile ciddi biçimde konunun üzerine gidilmesi için bence yeterli bir nedendir. Okuldaki 1100 öğrencinin aileleri çocuklarının okulda güvende olduğuna inanıyorlar. Eğer okul güvenli değilse, ailelerin bunu bilmeye hakkı var ve çocuklar orada bulunmamalı.

Büyük bir depremde yeterince güçlendirilmemiş okullarda neler olduğuna bakalım:

Haiti depreminde yerle bir olan okullar, pek çok kişi için daha iyi bir geleceğin umutlarını da söndürdü.

Çin depremi: Neden o kadar çok okul yıkıldı?

Okula ulaştıklarında, dehşetle, tüm binanın yerle bir olduğunu gördüler.

Pasternak, üç katlı bir bina olan okulun, üzerinde yürünebilecek bir moloz yığını haline geldiğini söyledi.

Deprem anında, bina içinde, aralarında yetim ve engellilerin de bulunduğu yüzlerce çocuk olduğunu söyledi.

Gece boyunca ellerinde hiçbir alet ya da makine olmaksızın çocukları enkazdan çıkarmaya çalıştılar. Sabah olduğunda, 25 yaralı ve 30 cansız beden çıkarabilmişlerdi.

Bina unufak olduğundan içeride kaç çocuğun olduğunu hiç kimse kesin olarak bilmiyordu, ancak Pasternak 50-100 çocuğun depremden hemen sonra kaçıp uzaklaştığını, bunun da enkaz altında halen 50-200 çocuk bulunduğu anlamına geldiğini belirtti.

Pasternak, daha önce Haiti’de gönüllü olarak çalışan 65 yaşındaki San Rafaelli

emekli öğretmen Wander’in de bitmez tükenmez bir gayretle çalıştığını söyledi.

Wander inatla, azimle çalışıyordu. Florance Nightingale kimliğine bürünmüş, ölmek üzere olan çocuklara yetişip kurtarmaya gayret ediyordu.

Wander aynı zamanda ölen çocukların resimlerini çekip kimlik tespitini kolaylaştırmayı düşünebilecek kadar da aklı başında davranmıştı.

Bu yetersiz okul güçlendirmesinin doğru olabileceği ve eğer öyleyse, bu konuda bir şeyler yapmanın hepimizin sosyal/etik bir sorumluluğu olduğu konusunda kuşkusu olan var mı?

Bu konuda daha fazla bilgi edinmeme yardımcı olabilecek kimse varmı?

Sunday, March 7, 2010


This is something I thought of a while ago; perhaps it's worth revisiting. As Anne Applebaum points out,

Before the quake, Chile also had regulations in place that required contractors to construct all new buildings to earthquake-resistant standards. Not every structure met the standards, but many did. And residents of those that did not will have some recourse: In the city of Concepción, residents of a new building that collapsed completely are threatening to take their builders to court, according to one report. The fact that they are even discussing this option implies that these apartment owners believe they have a court system that works, a legal system that could force builders to pay compensation, and a building regulatory system that is generally respected. Haiti has none of the above.

Turkey has some of the above, but not nearly enough. The average Turkish citizen wants nothing to do with the court system, believing it intimidating, incomprehensible, rigged, and vastly too expensive and time-consuming to use -- which it is. I speak from personal experience of taking a construction company to court.

The biggest problem is that it simply costs too much to sue someone. The cost of opening a lawsuit represents a substantial portion of an average Turk's annual income.

This article suggests a free-market solution to that problem. I wonder if it might be possible to start a profit-making company that invests in lawsuits?

Basically, since the idea of a lawsuit taken on a contingency basis doesn't exist here, it would be a way of filling that gap.

The idea has an obvious huge advantage over starting a legal aid society: There would be no need to appeal to anyone's good will. Profit would be the incentive, and you can always count on that as a strong incentive.

Any Turkish legal experts have any thoughts about the feasibility of this?

Friday, March 5, 2010


With thanks to Asli Suner.

Asli Suner Katılımcılar / Attendees:

Claire Berlinski - CB
Cagrı Sert - CS
Aslı Suner - AS
Ahmet Turhan Altıner - ATA
Bayram Yıldızoğlu - BY
Ender Ülker - EU
Aziz Nazmi Şakir - ANS
İbrahim Yıldırım - IY
Barbaros Bey - B

Konular / Issues Discussed:

1. Deprem felaketine hazırlık stratejilerinde farklı düzeylerde yaklaşımların gerekliliği tartışıldı. ATA Mahalle ölçeğinden başlamanın en doğru yöntem olduğunu ifade etti.
Görev: Katılımcıların herbirinin kendi mahalle muhtarları ile iletişime geçip, o mahalenin acil durum anındaki aksiyon ve kaöış planlarını öğrenmeleri. Muhatraların bu projeye dahil edilebilmeleri için bilgilendirilmeleri. Bir sonraki toplantıda bu bilgilerin tartışılması

(Levels of preparedness approaches are discussed. ATA suggested the best way be to start at "Neighborhood Level" involving 'Muhtar's.
Task: Per ATA's suggestion each attendee should talk to their muhtar and collect information for emergency plans for each neighborhood as a starting point to be then discussed at the next meeting.)

2. Hali hazırda varolan ve benzer konularda çalışan gruplar, dernekler ya da STKlar ile kontağa geçilmesine dair fikirler tartışıldı.
Görev: AS Architecture for Humanity'nin Istanbul grubu ile kontağa geçecek. Onların yaklaşık bir senedir süre gelen çalısmalarını öğrenip, ortak çalışma imkanlarını araştıracak.
ATA MAG ( Mahalle Afet Gönüllüleri - ) ile bağlantı kurdu. 25.03.2010 tarihinde, saat 16:30 da Gayrettepe Muhtarlığında bir tanışma toplantısı organize etti. Konu ile ilgili davet ilgilenenlere facebook üzerinden gönderilecek.

(Ideas and possibilities for joining existing groups / NGOs in the field of preparedness and awareness for disasters are discussed:
Task: AS to connect with Istanbul chapter of Architecture for Humanity to see for possibilities of a collaboration. or joining the group as a subgroup focused on earthquake preparedness/awarness
ATA to connect the group with MAG ( ). A meeting is already set up by ATA to take place on 25.03.2010 at Gayrettepe Muhtarlık to learn from their efforts so far )

3. B deprem afetine yönelik biliçlendirmeyi arttırmak ve acil durum anlarında yapılması gerekenler konusunda bilgilendirmek üzere basit garfiklerle sunulan bir broşür hazırlanmasını tavsiye etti. Dağıtım için gazeteleri devreye sokup, broşürleri geniş bir kitleye dağıtabileceğimizi önerdi.
AS tasarım grupları ve de okullarının bu gibi konularda dahil edilebileceğinden bahsetti. Öğrenciler çeşitli projeler vasıtasıyla bu çalışmalara gönüllü ya da okul ile katılabilirler. AS AFH-Istanbul grubu ile bu konuda da konuşacak. Onların okullar ile olan bağlantılarından yararlanmanın yollarını araştıracak.
B media grupları ile bağlantıyı üstlenecek.

(B suggested to prepare a simple brochure raising awareness and showing ways for preparedness in a simple graphic form and use media's help to distribute it in masses.
AS suggested to involve designers or design schools and potentially use students as part of such project. AFH- Istanbul can be a bridge as they are already in touch with some schools.
B to help with media connection.)

4. BY birkaç senedir süregelen DDS ( Deprem Duvar Sistemi ) konusunda grubu bilgilendirdi.

(BY explained the DDS product as a retrofitting solution at a bigger scale)

5. İnşaat sektöründeki sorumsuz yapım teknikleri ve yetersiz statik çözümleri üzerine tartışıldı. Kağıthane'de bir okul projesinde şahit olduğu yetersiz temel sorunundan bahsetti.
CB bu konuda gazeteci olarak raporlamak isteğini dile getirdi. Daha fazla bilgi ve kanıt çerçevesinde IY da bu tarz opersyonların önlenmesi konusunda yardımcı olabileceğini ifade etti.

(Irresponsible operations in construction industry are discussed. An example was given of a school in Kağıthane with inadequate foundation.
CB wants to report on it. With further evidence IY can also build some pressure.)

6. Jor El Istanbul grubunun yaptıgı çalışmaların organize olması ile oluşturulabılecek bir prezantasyonun ilçe başkanlıkları ve üst kurumlarında sunulabileceği konusunda yardımcı olabileceğini ifade etti. Bu sayede belediyeler ya da valililk düzeyinde konunun yayılması ve çalışılmasına önayak olunabilir.

(IY suggested that Jor El Istanbul efforts can be put in a presentation and he can arrange some meetings at the governing levels to present ideas and action strategies in pursuit of their involvement.)

7. ATA Istanbul'daki okulların büyük çoğunluğunda kaçış kapılarının içeriye doğru açıldığına dikkat çekti. Bu acil durumlarda büyük problemlere yol açan bir problem. Ucuz maliyetle ve hızlı bir islem ile kapı yönleri değiştirilebilir. Bu konuda devlet tarafından bir yaptırım gerekir.

(ATA mentioned that most schools have their escape doors swinging in, which causes a major problem during emergencies. It's a low-cost, easy-to-implent strategy to switch swings to open out, which needs to be mandated by governing agencies. )

8. Acil durum tatbikatlarının eksikliği tartışıldı.

(Issue about lack of drills raised.)

9. Kriz öncesi kartografi çalışmalarının gerekliliği ve yöntemleri tartışıldı. Bu konuda varolan sistemlerin ( Ushahidi - ve Frontline SMS - ) araştırılmasına karar verildi. Bu konuda tecrübesi olan ya da bilgisayar programacısı arkadaşların konuya dahil olmalarını bekliyoruz.

(Advanced Crisis Mapping ideas are discussed. Further study of existing systems and ways of adaptations to be investigated. Computer programmers from the group are encouraged to get involved with this.)


I thought the first in-person meeting of Jor El Istanbul, last Wednesday, was a good start. We are certainly all of like mind about the seriousness of the risk and the inadequacy of Istanbul's disaster planning.

We'll be meeting the general coordinator of the MAY and LIDAH projects on March 25 from 16:30-18:00 in Gayrettepe. We plan also, individually, to meet our local muhtars to learn more about our own neighborhoods' disaster preparation. We'll offer to cooperate with them to improve these plans and communicate the plans to other people in our neighborhoods.

Several very disturbing points came up. I'm hoping other members of the group will contribute to listing them: These are points that should be made public in Turkish, not English. My Turkish really isn't good enough.

By far the most disturbing point was this. A member of the group is certain that a school in Kağıthane that is said to have been retrofitted has not in fact been made secure. He said that 350,000 YTL was spent to retrofit the school, but the foundation is still only 16 cm. deep. He also said that the engineer who supervised the work told him, "I wouldn't send my children here." He believed this to be true of many schools that have supposedly been retrofitted.

He wasn't willing to discuss the details of this. I can't confirm, immediately, that the story is true. But the possibility that it's true is enough to make me think this should be investigated aggressively. The parents of those 1,100 children believe their kids are safe in that school. If they're not, those parents are entitled to know -- and those children shouldn't be in there.

This is what happens in a major earthquake to schools that are not properly secured:

China's quake: Why did so many schools collapse?

As the school came into view, they were horrified to see that it had collapsed.

"What had been a three-story building was a ramp, you could walk up it," Pasternak said.

He said there were likely several hundred children inside at the time of the collapse, including numerous orphans and disabled children.

They worked overnight to pull children from the rubble, without the help of tools or machinery. By morning, they had pulled out about 25 wounded children and the bodies of nearly 30 children who had died.

No one has an exact count of how many children were inside the building when it crumbled, but Pasternak said about 50-100 were seen fleeing the school after the quake, meaning that between 50 and 200 children were still underneath the rubble.

Pasternak said Wander, a 65-year-old former San Rafael schoolteacher who has volunteered periodically in Haiti for about the past decade, worked tirelessly.

"She was on absolute overdrive of wanting to help," he said. "She was Florence Nightingale. She was out there trying to rescue some of the kids who were obviously dying."

Wander also had the presence of mind to photograph the deceased children to identify them later, he said.
Does anyone doubt that if the story of the inadequate retrofitting of this school is true, we all have a moral responsibility to do something about it? Now?

Is there anyone who will help me find out more about this?