x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Expert urges earthquake preparedness

Earthquakes are more of a threat to the world than terrorism, an international security conference was told.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the UAE Interior Minister, centre, chats with World Security Forum delegates yesterday.
Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the UAE Interior Minister, centre, chats with World Security Forum delegates yesterday.

ABU DHABI // Earthquakes are more of a threat to the world than terrorism, an international security conference was told yesterday. Dr Richard Eisner, director of the US earthquake engineering research institute, told delegates at the World Security Forum in Abu Dhabi that not enough was being done. "The impact of earthquakes is the greatest challenge to face this region," he said. "They disrupt the very infrastructure that the emergency services and others rely on to treat the wounded and communicate to those affected."

Dr Eisner told the conference that 98 per cent of deaths in quakes were caused by building collapse, and urged governments to have measures in place to limit the damage. He stressed the need for "seismic resistant" buildings, which cost no more to design and around 10 per cent extra to build. The UAE has felt the aftershocks of several significant earthquakes and was hit by two tremors last month.

Office blocks in the UAE were evacuated as 17 aftershocks hit the country on Sept 10 after of 6.1-magnitude tremor in Iran, which killed 10 people there. Another earthquake was felt in the Northern Emirates a week later. Dr Eisner described the impact of the 6.6 magnitude earthquake which hit the town of Bam in Iran in 2003, killing 80,000 people, about 30 per cent of the population. Dr Eisner also urged governments to follow the example of California, which is on the San Andreas Fault.

After a quake in 1930, which caused the collapse of several secondary schools and the death of scores of children, the state embarked on a scheme to make all its school buildings quake-safe. "The project took 70 years to complete - almost three generations - but that goal has been achieved and now, not only do we have a set of schools that ensure our children are safe, but also we have a number of safe shelters."

He said recent estimates suggested that should a quake similar to the 1930 disaster strike California again, the damage would cost US$120 billion (Dh440bn). He also said a recent investigation found that a third of California's hospitals were not suitably shock-proofed for such an earthquake and were likely to either crumble or be rendered unsafe to treat the injured. Sir Ken Knight, a former commissioner of the London Fire Service and emergency planning adviser to the British government, gave a briefing on rescue techniques in high rise buildings.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Interior Minister, opened the forum by pledging to develop world class emergency rescue services across the UAE. At the opening of the conference, a statement from Sheikh Saif said: "The World Security Forum is of great importance in strengthening efforts to upgrade security systems in the region and in exchanging expertise with specialised establishments concerned." The World Security Forum, which opened yesterday, brought together some of the world's top experts in the field of security and disaster management to discuss strategies for limiting the impact of large scale disasters.

The two-day conference aims to offer a "knowledge exchange" for specialists in crisis response. "The uncertain and unpredictable events, whether they are consequences of nature or human beings, threaten the lives of millions of people across the planet," read the message. "We hope this forum will contribute to strengthening stability in our region and the world. He reiterated "the keen interest of the UAE, backed by the unlimited support of the country's wise leadership, in becoming a country that possesses one of the world's best emergency systems with a high readiness to carry out timely and efficient rescue work."

Attendance at the 350-seat conference hall in Emirates Palace hotel was low, with around 100 listening to the opening speech. chamilton@thenational.ae