Are we ready for music?

Jan 26 - Feb 01, 2003



Name fixing Meteorologists would probably call the latest Iranian Earthquake as "Ghia" (Arabic for Devastation plus) ZAMEEN AST (Persian for, on this earth). The official toll in Iranian Seismos (Greek for earthquake) is 30,000 dead minus two the latest survivors. Surprisingly earthquake of nearly similar intensity which struck California caused damaged to very few buildings as compared to total city wipe out in Iran.

Why is it so? If you ask this question to George Bush probably he would say" God loves Americans more".

And probably some fundamentalist may opine, Those whom God loves the most makes an early return".

A professor of civil engineering department may pronounce verdict of non-engineered structural construction of mud houses in city of Bam.

Will we be the next on hit list ? Only God knows.

Earthquakes are considered to be the most destructive among all the natural hazards. Most of the time, they occur without any signal, this makes them most feared and unpredictable natural phenomena. On an average two earthquakes of magnitude 8 on Richter scale are known to occur every year. Countries like Japan, China, Turkey, Algeria, Iran and United States have suffered several damaging earthquakes.

One of the explanation given in Funk & Wagnall's new encyclopedia is that earthquake are vibrations produced in the earth's crust when rocks in which elastic strain has been building up suddenly rupture, and then rebound. These vibrations can range from barely noticeable to catastrophically destructive as was in case of Bam.

In Tokyo for example number of times you can feel the vibrations and would make one nervous if he is staying in a high rise building.

It is said that human can induce earthquakes through a variety of activities such as underground detonation of atomic bombs so if you plan to settle in Nevada (American state known for underground atomic detonations) change your mind.

Another destructive effect of earthquake is the generation of tidal waves also called as seismic sea waves or their Japanese name tsunami.

Beware, says the scientists to live in buildings that have been constructed on filled ground. ( Avoid buildings near sea shore).

When subjected to shock waves of a quake, soil used in " land fill may lose all its bearing strength and act like quick sand. Building resting on these materials get swallowed up as was demonstrated in Japan, Sanfrancisco.

History tell us that the worst earthquake in recent human history struck in China in 1976 near the city of Tang Shan causing more than half a million deaths.

The units of intensity commonly used is named after American seismologist Charles Francis Richter. This scale measures the intensity of the energy released at the focus of the quake. It runs from 1 to 9.

The other scale developed by Italian Mercalli measures the intensity of shaking with gradations from I to XII. 8 to 9 on Richter scale can be correlated to XI and XII of Mercalli scale.



Is Karachi Building Control authority really monitoring the building codes implementation? Big question mark.

Building codes are the public's first line of defense against earthquakes. The codes specify the levels of earthquake forces that structures must be designed to withstand. As ground lessons have been learned about how buildings are damaged in earthquakes, the minimum earthquake requirements specified in building codes have been improved in civilized world.


One of the hot issues here is the use of substandard building material specially the reinforcement steel bars. There has been some research work to suggest that reinforcement bars produced out of ship plates, ingots do not match in terms of mechanical properties with that of reinforcement bars rolled out of prime quality billets.

Also the Fatigue strength of the bars (which is very rarely determined by constructors, designers, architects, engineers here) do not have enough endurance cycles to give a safe structure. Further the proportion of steel to cement which normally constructor manipulates is again a grey area

Similarly the Design Codes followed decades back may have structural weakness making old buildings more liable to fail, if earthquake struck here.




The research indicates that geological mapping of an area is the first step towards the surface and subsurface investigation of a region. The accuracy of these investigations decides the prediction accuracy before an earthquake and also the post earthquake control and reduction measures. Also "Remote sensing and air photogrammetry is of immense potential at the reconnaissance stage of the mapping. Now it is possible to map the inaccessible regions through the satellites".

With the advent of Geoinformatics revolutionary change has been brought in these investigations. Soft wares are available for the geological mapping of the area. They are highly useful in the speedy and accurate execution of mapping work.

Media can play a great role in educating the masses. Some Do's and Don'ts are:

If you look at recommendations of Federal Emergency Management Agency website (FEMA) this is what you will find.


•Pick "safe places" in each room of your home. A safe place could be under a sturdy table or desk or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. The shorter the distance to move to safety, the less likely you will be injured. Injury statistics show that people moving as little as 10 feet during an earthquake's shaking are most likely to be injured. Also pick safe places, in your office, school and other buildings you are frequently in.

•Protect your eyes by keeping your head down.

•If you must leave a building after the shaking stops, use the stairs, not the elevator. As a precaution, use the stairs.

•If you're outside in an earthquake, stay outside. Move away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines. Crouch down and cover your head. Many injuries occur within 10 feet of the entrance to buildings. Bricks, roofing, and other materials can fall from buildings, injuring persons nearby. Trees, streetlights, and power lines may also fall, causing damage or injury.

•Discuss earthquakes with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing earthquakes ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond. (Probably we can discuss in late night weddings which are quiet common these days)

•Talk with your insurance agent. Different areas have different requirements for earthquake protection. Study locations of active faults, and if you are at risk, consider purchasing earthquake insurance.


•Secure items that might fall (televisions, books, computers, etc.). Falling items can cause damage or injury.

•Hang heavy items, such as pictures and mirrors, away from beds, couches, and anywhere people sit. Earthquakes can knock things off walls, causing damage or injury. During earthquakes, overhead light fixtures are the most common items to fall, causing damage or injury.

•Repair any deep cracks in ceilings or foundations. Get expert advice if there are signs of structural defects. Earthquakes can turn cracks into ruptures and make smaller problems bigger.

•Consider having your building evaluated by a professional structural design engineer. Ask about home repair and strengthening tips for exterior features, such as porches, front and back decks, sliding glass doors, canopies, carports, and garage doors. Learn about additional ways you can protect your home. A professional can give you advice on how to reduce potential damage.

•Follow local seismic building standards and safe land use codes that regulate land use along fault lines. Some municipalities, counties, and states have enacted codes and standards to protect property and occupants. Learn about your area's codes before construction. ( There will be problem finding such codes here)


•It is very dangerous to try to leave a building during an earthquake because objects can fall on you. Many fatalities occur when people run outside of buildings, only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls.

•If you are in bed, in a building built with proper design code hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You are less likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury to those who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.

•If you are outdoors, find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, streetlights, and power lines. Drop to the ground and stay there until the shaking stops. Injuries can occur from falling trees, street-lights and power lines, or building debris.

•If you are in a vehicle, pull over to a clear location, stop and stay there with your seatbelt fastened until the shaking has stopped. Trees, power lines, poles, street signs, and other overhead items may fall during earthquakes. Stopping will help reduce your risk, and a hard-topped vehicle will help protect you from flying or falling objects. Once the shaking has stopped, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that might have been damaged by the quake.

•Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you're sure it's safe to exit. More injuries happen when people move during the shaking of an earthquake. After the shaking has stopped, if you go outside, move quickly away from the building to prevent injury from falling debris.

•Stay away from windows. Windows can shatter with such force that you can be injured several feet away.


We have special links with Iran, Turkey, Algeria and India also falling in the club. They are known to be earthquake friendly countries and have learned ground lessons. Let's adopt a joint strategy of knowledge sharing specially in mapping and use of software for better evaluation. I am sure Higher Education Commission can allocate some fund for more research. A team comprising of Geologists, Civil Engineer, Architect and Material Scientist and Meteorologist can be set up as a Task force to classify our country into five zones according to intensity factor.

COMSTECH can play a useful role in funding research. As most of the Muslim countries are in the HIT LIST.

In the end I would request KBCA to issue a certificate that all buildings in Karachi are safe and can stand 8.0 intensity on Richter scale. And in case we become victim what will the controller say when we meet again. SORRY?