OPINION

Quake protection

Every time an earthquake strikes in some part of Greece, everyone starts asking seismologists for predictions and our insatiable television channels seek out the most pessimistic and sinister forecasts in the belief that provoking terror among the public is a profitable business. The experts – in general, but not all of them all of the time – make it clear that they are not clairvoyants and that despite progress in recent decades, they cannot predict seismic activity. Seismology is a science that, perhaps more than any other, tries to draw conclusions by observing the phenomenon in the long term, and by collecting various statistical data. Insufficient time has passed to gather enough information and observations to lead to conclusive results. The lack of certainty makes scientists extremely reluctant to make any predictions that could cause upheaval among the residents of a town and do more damage than a quake itself. So they have arrived at the only conclusion possible – as have all seismologists in every part of the world where earthquakes occur – that we have to learn to live with earthquakes. There are two aspects to this. The first is to educate the public systematically, beginning with pre-school children, to protect themselves calmly and effectively and for however long the duration of the earthquake may be. The second and more important aspect is the proper anti-seismic construction of buildings and town planning regulations, where great progress has already been made in recent years. Even if they do not completely prevent damage, they have considerably limited the amount of destruction caused by quakes. In Japan, an area of major seismic activity, the positive results of anti-seismic construction has been truly impressive in recent years. The complete opposite has occurred in Turkey, where in every earthquake, poor construction results in hundreds, or even thousands, of victims and massive damage to property. This is the message from Lefkada after the 6.4-Richter quake of last Thursday. Fifty years after the massive, destructive quake of 50 years ago in the Ionian islands, Lefkada’s newer buildings have withstood the quake this time. The second message is that the right training of the population and organization on the part of the state results in rapid, coordinated and effective action.