Gurgaon, Haryana -- (ReleaseWire) -- 01/03/2007 --This may come as a rude shock to many, but the reality is that buildings designed and constructed before 2002 do not even meet the minimum earthquake safety standards prescribed by the Government. The Indian Seismic Building Code was last revised in the year 2002 after many valuable lessons were learnt in the aftermath of the devastating Gujarat earthquake of 26Jan2001. There were many a committee set up to inquire into the lapses and suggest remedial measures; many international agencies pledged their support and the United Nations contributed both monetarily and by providing technical guidance. The Indian Seismic Code underwent a stringent upgrade so that future catastrophes could be averted. The loss of life and property was colossal and for some time the vast media coverage made one to believe that this was the “final wake up call”. As time passed the memories once again proved to be short lived and the “chatpatta” Bollywood news sold more and the mundane “Earthquake Safety” which was easily ignored especially when it was asking the people to do some thing which they have never done before, “protect themselves”.
The Government after great deliberations benchmarked “Life Safety” as the minimum safety standard that all buildings mandatorily adhere to. Life safety implies that in case of a major earthquake the total collapse of the building should be prevented. This would help in minimizing casualties. After the earthquake, in case the damage to the building was above a threshold level it could be demolished and rebuilt.
Approximately 59% of the country is vulnerable to earthquakes. The recent seismic activity in the Indian Sub-Continent, including the High-Intensity Indonesia and Muzaffarabad quakes, has rekindled fears at the highest echelons and many initiatives are being revived. The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh himself, chairs the National Disaster Management Authority. President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, raised the issue of “the need to accelerate research for forecasting earthquakes” to “prevent heavy damage to the people and property” in his recent Independence Day speech. This is testimony enough as to the seriousness with which the Government is assessing the threat perception of increased seismic activity. With growing economic might, comes greater vulnerability and therefore the need for stringent safeguards.
However mere lip service on what should be done and followed would do little for the country to achieve greater earthquake resilience. Accountability should be the order of the day. Stringent legal provisions to enforce that at least the minimum safeguards must be followed. Public awareness is required to be created through mass advertising so that they can then take the necessary steps to upgrade their buildings. The present day reality makes this a necessity.
Today the responsibility of the Builder/Developer finishes once the possession is handed over. The occupants who are struggling to pay their housing installments are many times in no position to incur further expenditure on structural analysis/evaluation and seismic retrofit. Even if the actual retrofit costs are to be paid by the occupants the builders should provide their existing engineering infrastructure for seismic evaluation of the buildings constructed by them. Once the analysis is done the occupants would then know the expenditure required for upgrading the building to the present earthquake standards.
In many developed and developing countries which lie in the seismically active regions, Building Insurance is mandatory especially high-rise construction. The insurance companies pitch in with quality control and ensure stringent safeguards before they provide the required insurance cover. As an incentive, in case, higher than the minimum safety standards are followed, the insurance premium becomes less, and in cases where even the minimum safeguards are not adhered to, the building simply does not get insured.
Today there exist many earthquake protection technologies which efficiently and effectively protect structures against earthquakes i.e. dampers or energy dissipaters. These devices are also the most efficient and cost effective way of protecting buildings and have been used on many thousands of buildings around the world. One or the other building which incorporates this technology witnesses an earthquake each day. Ministry of Science and Technology is pitching in its bit by funding a research project for evaluating the effectiveness of such devices. These time tested earthquake protection technologies can be brought to India for manufacturing such devices, in case the Government facilitates funding.