recent earthquake in iran — what can we do to help?

18 06 2007

[By Shideh] Today, on Monday 6/18/07 at nearly 6 p.m. (local time), a moderate earthquake (magnitude 5.5) shook Iran’s central desert.  The epicenter was about 150 km south of Tehran. 

 qom-eq.jpg  qom-eq-faulting.jpg

Fortunately, there are no reports of casualties and injuries, according to the state media and aid workers. I’m wondering if anyone in Tehran felt the earthquake, and if so, for how many seconds; if you felt the earthquake, please take a minute and answer the questions in the above USGS page, under the link for “Did you feel it.”  To get a feel for the quantity and size of earthquakes in Iran in the past month, visit:

This earthquake seems to have frightened many Tehranians, according to a few news sources, as many left their homes for the fear of another earthquake.  The questions that I want to address in this post are: do we need to be worried, what are the current efforts for seismic risk reduction in Tehran, and can we do anything to help?

Tehran is a seismically active region with 15 existing active faults around it and a history of more than 10 earthquakes with magnitudes greater than 7.  Faults around Tehran are capable of producing earthquakes as large as 7.9. According to most studies, the probability of occurrence of a strong earthquake in the Tehran region within the next 10 years is approximately 70%.  This is a high number which means: we should worry!

According to the IIEES, in the past no important counter-measures seem to have been considered to decrease the impacts of a potential earthquake in Tehran, but recently the government has carried out a disaster risk reduction program for the country. The IIEES has undertaken a number of studies on mitigation, preparedness, emergency response, etc., to make a clear picture of the current state of Tehran and to propose the necessary steps to fill the gaps.  This study may take a while, but it seems we are going in the right direction. 

Now, what can we, as normal Tehranians, do to help? We may not be able to afford to hire a civil engineer to seismic retrofit our homes.  Even if we can afford it, we cannot stay home 24/7 with the fear of an earthquake, as no one else has a safe home.  Even the hospitals and schools may need retrofit for that matter.  We may not have enough time for the government to complete its ongoing studies and for it to start enforcing new construction related laws and perform risk mitigation techniques.  There must be a way for the city agencies, the public, and the engineering community to unite and subsidize the cost of seismic retrofit at least for public buildings to start with.  It seems to be a good approach to start with schools as most of us are more alarmed when it comes to the children’s safety. 

Perhaps we can gather a group of individuals who are willing to volunteer and engineering firms who are willing to contribute towards making Tehran a seismically safer place, under an official organization or a non-profit.  If every engineering firm contributes even a little, and the city agencies show a little support, with the help of volunteers and media, we can prevent a great tragedy and we will be thankful for it when the next big earthquake strikes Tehran.  What are your thoughts on this?




2 responses

18 06 2007

Sounds like a big wake up call.
Out of curiosity, do you know when the last big earthquake was in Tehran that caused damage or injured people?
Unfortunately, because Tehran is so big, so dense, full of so many poorly built structures, and because people’s perception of risk varies so widely, and among tons of other obstacles, it just feels impossible to implement anything. I wonder how far idealistic strategies will get us on the grand scheme of things. Even if some programs get off the ground… what will that do in the event of a moderate to large earthquake hitting Tehran?… perhaps save a few hundred people? Less? More? I bet a lot of people – citizens, policy makers, and scientists all share this hopeless view.
I wonder if there is a solution, outside of the box, that is more effective. Topics like emergency response, hospital accessibility, public awareness/education, etc, etc pop into mind, but the shear magnitude of the hazard potential is daunting and makes me want to not think about it.
I wonder what people who are implementing these studies and policies feel about the scale (in terms of time and population) of influence of their actions.
Perhaps the right mentality is not to plan for the earthquakes that will happen in the next few decades (because, realistically, can anything be done?), rather maybe to be effective, we should think about earthquakes more distant in time. Maybe we can prepare Tehran for those. Perhaps we need to focus also on policy that holds contractors and inspectors responsible for their construction, building hospitals that are accessible and safe, educating people to expect and demand proper houses and workplaces, and planning lifeline facilities that can perform in earthquakes, etc, etc, and etc. (so many issues!) with a focus toward a 20+ year timeframe.
But of course, those thoughts are depressing – because what about right now! What about us living in Tehran now? And what about the next earthquake that has a “70% probability of occurring in the next 10 years”? Do you have info on what specific actions are being done for the short term in Tehran? Do you know what people do in other countries? I’d hate for Tehran to be forced to experience what say San Francisco experienced in 1906 – especially since Tehran is so much bigger and carries orders more importance (!). In SF, the city was practically destroyed and they had to redo it the right way. If Tehran is practically destroyed, I don’t know if there will be anyone, any money, or any resources left to redo it the right way.
But who knows, maybe a comprehensive retrofit program, which addresses structures and lifelines by priority (hospitals, utilities, schools, etc, etc, homes, etc) would do the trick for the short term – but I think such a program would need to start NOW! Not much time for studies and so on. Perhaps get started now with something cheap and somewhat effective, but have studies happening in parallel and also in parallel, start implementing laws that force structures to be built right… maybe some kind of elite national seismic inspection task force that is immune to bribes, and what not… the “ENSITFtiITB”.

18 06 2007

… I just ran into this somewhat related article. I haven’t read through the whole thing yet – but the abstract, conclusion, and references had some interesting stuff:

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