Earthquake protection

Every tremor of the earth jolts us into checking whether the buildings in which we live and work are really safe. Living in Greece means coming to terms with earthquakes. Panic, sensationalism and makeshift repairs create problems rather than solve them. What earthquake protection requires is calm, thorough action taken in advance and that will last longer than the first aftershocks. «Since 1985, when the modern anti-seismic building regulations were first instituted, protection measures have continually improved. The question is whether they are being complied with,» Yiannis Protonotarios, professor of seismic engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, told Kathimerini. «Since then, there has been substantial strengthening of building structures. This was followed up in 1994, culminating in the excellent anti-seismic regulation of the year 2000, which is very good because it has taken into consideration both international research and local experience,» he added. But what happens in the case of buildings that were built before 1985, as were most buildings in Greece? The first anti-seismic regulation in Greek history was approved in 1959. Some 47 percent of the buildings in Greece went up between then and 1985. One-third of the buildings are not even covered by the 1985 ruling because they preceded it. In total, 80 percent of buildings were not erected according to the 1985 specifications. «This doesn’t mean that they are dangerous. Statistically they are more vulnerable, but only an on-site inspection can be more specific,» said Yiannis Vlachos, who represents the Technical Chamber of Greece on the scientific committee of the Anti-Seismic Protection Organization, to Kathimerini. «We have seen the weak points of older structures,» said Protonotarios. «One problem with those built of reinforced concrete is that there was no requirement for linking beams at the base of the foundations. This precaution was partially introduced in 1994 and became mandatory in 2000. But this failing can be dealt with,» he said. «If there is a large pile pier or shops on the ground floor, linking beams can be installed without excessive cost.» Another problem that affects a number of old apartment blocks is a Pi-shaped facade, which leaves a dangerous gap between pillars. The third point is that internal walls make a significant contribution to the anti-seismic behavior of buildings. «That is why we should not be too quick to knock down walls but consult an engineer,» he emphasizes. Stone buildings present the most problems in the upper floors’ corners, particularly the ceilings. But there are solutions for that too. Renovation that does not interfere with the structure of the building helps. «Even the cohesion that comes from a good coat of plaster plays a part. As for stone corners, they can be reinforced with braces,» the professor explained. On building sites with regular permits, engineers are usually careful because the penalties are high. The big problem is with illegal buildings where the engineer never turned up on the premises. «When illegal buildings are made legal, there must be a careful inspection and the owner must be obliged to produce a ‘good conduct report’ for the building, signed by the engineer. It would be a good idea to offer some incentives for that,» he concluded.

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