Quake risk

The publication of the new earthquake risk map which is to be included in the regulations for building in quake-prone areas coincided with a tremor that shook the island of Evia. A series of shocks there over the past few weeks has come to remind us that quake activity poses a constant and unpredictable threat in this country. Notably, many areas, such as Parnitha in 1999 and Psachna this year, were not listed as at risk from earthquakes. The new map underscores the difficulty and the relative value of these forecasts, stressing how much the data has changed in just a few years (the previous map was drawn in 1995 and was based on data covering the period up to 1989), and how important it is to constantly upgrade forecasts. The new map also abolishes the lowest risk zone, therefore large areas are automatically promoted into a higher risk level. Furthermore, some regions’ had their status re-examined after recent quakes. The revised quake risk map and the reappraised building regulations are hoped to improve new constructions. On the other hand, the authorities have lagged behind in monitoring and protecting existing buildings (Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou has blamed poor response by the responsible officials), while plans for buildings’ compulsory quake insurance have also stalled. One does not have to be seismophobic to realize that both these aims must be promoted. Satisfactory as overall building quality may be, Greece’s high seismic activity means that no measures are excessive. As for the insurance coverage, it offers some security in the event of damage occurring. And concerning the issue of existing buildings, we should keep one more thing in mind: One may recall that all public buildings escaped unscathed from the 1999 earthquake. However, many private ones did not. It was later proved that the construction of the latter often involved a series of legal violations, like filling streambeds with rubble or building unlicensed floors on top of an existing structure. The fact that the regulations are becoming stricter should not deflect attention from the fact that the previous ones had been breached – often by people who put their lives in danger in order to save money to buy a luxury car. The improvement of seismic protection mandates closer state monitoring and efforts to reinforce the sense of private responsibility. Should we fail to take all the necessary measures to protect ourselves, then no administration, however prudent, will ever manage to protect us against ourselves.