x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Sturdier buildings are good insurance for the UAE

Even though there is little chance of the UAE being hit by a devastating earthquake, prudence in these matters provides reassurance to everyone.

On a thinly populated stretch of the border between Iran and Pakistan, last month's big earthquake killed at least 35 people and flattened many buildings.

In the UAE, and across the GCC, the quake was little more than a subject for water-cooler chatter. The event scored a potent 7.8 on the Richter scale at its epicentre, but was the equivalent of a modest 4.5 or so in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Still, we naturally expect the ground to stay still under us, and those few seconds of harmless excitement on April 16 did get people thinking. The National and other media reminded people of the safest way to react when an earthquake occurs. In many high-rise buildings, evacuation protocols were reviewed and circulated in the few days after the event.

And now there has been a safety aftershock, so to speak: Dubai has announced that it will impose new, tougher earthquake-resistance standards for all future tall buildings and certain public ones.

The previous rule called for every building over 10 storeys, plus all hospitals and schools, to be built to withstand a shock of 5.0 to 5.5 on the Richter scale. The municipality said last week that new buildings in those categories must be made to endure shocks up to 5.9.

This is a bigger change than the numbers indicate. Specialists grumble about the use of the Richter scale to measure the effect of a 'quake far from its centre, but it is widely known. What may be less known is that it is a logarithmic scale: a 'quake of 6.0 is 10 times bigger than one of 5.0.

So Dubai's new sturdiness standard will entail substantial additional costs, in design, engineering and materials. One expert told The National last week that construction costs could go up by as much as 10 per cent because of the new requirement.

Implicit in such comments is a hint that this new suspenders-and-a-belt approach may be excessive. We do not agree.

True, geologists say that Dubai and Abu Dhabi, not being right on a fault line, are at zero risk of a really serious earthquake. Experts say strong winds are a bigger issue in this country - and Dubai is expected to bring in new wind-resistance requirements this year.

Prudence in these matters provides reassurance to everyone. With intelligent cost management, building an extra safety margin into our buildings is simply a worthwhile investment.