By Thanassis Tsinganas
Are we afraid of earthquakes in Greece? Judging by the response of regional authorities to the government’s Seismic Risk Assessment Program for public buildings, the answer is no.
Eleven years after the scheme was first introduced, only 11,667 of some 80,000 state-owned buildings across the country have been checked. That is around 15 percent of Greece’s hospitals, schools, public utilities, power plants, telecommunications facilities and so on.
The percentage goes down if we take into consideration the number of school facilities whose earthquake resistance status is assessed by Greece’s School Building Organization (OSK).
The reasons behind the poor response from regional officials are not only financial. After all, local authorities have the technical staff required for building inspections. One major reason that they have failed to show any enthusiasm for the campaign undertaken since 2001 by the Earthquake Planning and Protection Organization (OASP) is because the related circular (issued by what used to be the Public Works Ministry) does not have a mandatory character.
Regional authorities are currently responsible for the work that was previously -- that is, before the Kallikratis local government overhaul -- carried out by their prefectural counterparts and the number of preliminary checks has dropped.
In June 2008, a 6.5-magnitude quake struck near the western port city of Patras, about 120 miles west of Athens, killing two people, injuring more than 200 and damaging hundreds of buildings.
In 1999, a magnitude 6.0 quake near Athens killed 143 people, while more than 2,000 people were treated for injuries. Over 1,000 buildings collapsed, trapping dozens of victims under the rubble.
No country in the world has laws stipulating mandatory seismic risk assessments for all public buildings. With the exception of California in the United States, and Japan, inspections for public buildings are not common practice. According to OASP officials, if inspections went ahead, Greece would be the only state in the world to have a comprehensive profile of public buildings’ quake resistance status -- particularly for those built before 1959, that is before the introduction of the first Anti-Seismic Regulation. The number of public buildings constructed before 1959 (excluding schools) is not officially known, but the percentage is 32 percent.
Speaking to Kathimerini, OASP Chairman Nikitas Papadopoulos said buildings are classified in three distinct categories which determine the need for further inspections. The findings are sent to the responsible regional authorities.
Figures show a surprisingly low demand for inspections in areas of high seismicity, such as the Ionian islands. Schools and hospitals are high on the list while the new law regarding illegal buildings is expected to tackle the issue of their structural stability.
As far as schools are concerned, OSK is currently in Phase 2 of the program (4,200 school units comprising 9,000 buildings constructed between 1960 and 1985). Priority has been given to schools in western Attica. Preliminary inspections in Attica are expected to have been completed by 2014. Inspections at schools in the rest of the country are expected to finish one year later.
Checks on the 5,041 school units constructed before 1959 found that about 500 of them needed some minor upgrades. Twenty have already had repairs or reinforcement carried out.
Greece is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world, but the thousands of quakes recorded each year rarely result in severe damage or fatalities.