lessons from the tragedy in haiti

27 01 2010

[By SD]   I went to a very interesting seminar yesterday at Berkeley on the preliminary reconnaissance of the tragic Haiti Earthquake. You can watch the entire webcast on:


You can find the photo collection of the speaker (Eduardo Fierro) at:


My overall impression was that:

1) This disaster was tragic, but unfortunately not unique. Similar to many developing countries, the tragedy was not caused by the earthquake, but by bad construction and related policies

2) We, as engineers, can help Haiti through grassroots actions, organizations, and networks, such as Build Change or GeoHazard International Read the rest of this entry »

tehran’s minor earthquake on saturday

19 10 2009

Tehran experienced a minor earthquake (Richter magnitude 4) on Saturday at 2:23 pm local time (http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=205750). It seems that most Tehranies felt this shake. There is now a widespread fear of aftershocks and possibly bigger earthquakes due to more activities on the Eivanaki fault in southeast Tehran. Since information on the historical activity of this fault seems to be limited, it is difficult to make accurate probabilistic predictions on the likelihood of an aftershock. But it is certainly possible and quite likely to have another earthquake soon (not necessarily related to this particular fault movement). Tehran sits on major active faults and suffers from a large seismic risk due to fault activity, poor construction practice, and large population. The occurance of this recent minor earthquake may have influenced the stresses in the surrounding faults and might have increased the existing seismic risk facing Tehran.

 tehran map

Tehrani residents, engineers, contractors, general public, please be aware and pay attention to this important risk that you will have to deal with sooner or later. To learn how to protect yourself before, during, and after an earthquake, visit this site by FEMA: http://www.fema.gov/hazard/earthquake/index.shtm

In two of our previous posts, we also had some good discussion on earthquake preparedness in Tehran:



Tehrani engineers, architects, and contractors: I assume that you already know how to make earthquake resistant structures in a cost-effective way. If you have questions/concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me and I will try my best to send you information on the current state of practice (in structural and geotechnical design) for your specific project. If you are not convinced about the risks facing your city and need more information on the probability of earthquakes in the coming years, also please don’t hesitate to let me know or contact someone at IIEES in Tehran (http://www.iiees.ac.ir/). Keep in mind that you are responsible for your building, and negligence and lack of knowledge are not acceptable any more.

understanding earthquakes and effects

6 10 2009

Great overview of our progress and current understanding of earthquakes since the 1906 great San Francisco earthquake:

image reflection

29 09 2009

Tehran has been going through many shakes in the last few months following the presidential elections. These shakes, have, of course been non-seismic! This blog is meant to address the critical issues facing Tehran’s infrastructure and vulnerabilities, so it stayed quiet. However, although, during this sensitive time, infrastructure and role of engineers may seem to many of us as un-important or the last item on our list of priorities, it is in fact a fundamental step toward the common goals of all Iranians, regardless of their political agenda or crises.

Tehran remains to be highly divided and the government seems more divided than its subjects. But that is not my concern, as I’m sure many others are working on that. I am actually concerned about that part of us responsible for our own daily actions. I hear that construction projects are more or less dead in Tehran these days but are starting to move forward gradually. In the past few months, we have all been shaken hard by the wave of excitement and tragedies of our fellow Iranians. We all feel like we’ve been hit in the head a few times every day, watching the news or video clips of new stories. It’s draining, I know. But I also know that we always have a tendency to criticize others and not ourselves – the easiest job in the world.

Let me start with myself: I am trying hard to, as we say in Persian, not forget my mirror when I want to criticize others, including my friends, parents, teachers, and leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

power of incentive

14 11 2008


[By Shideh]    My thoughts on the concept of “incentive”…

What do you think would give Tehranians enough incentives to do what’s good for their city? What would give any person enough incentives to care about her surrounding? To cheat less whether in school or in trade, to respect the rules, to drive properly, to keep her/his street clean, to use public transportation, to turn off the lights when not used, to respect order in lines, to build ethically, and finally to come out in the morning with a smile and a loud “good morning, isn’t it a beautiful day” to the neighbors?




Photo courtesy of Hamed


Why do I see this attitude in some cities, and the opposite in others? Is there something in our genes that make us care and cheat less? Is it cultural, deeply rooted in our training as we grow up and if so, can we change that? Or is it purely a matter of the circumstance? I hear my economist friends talk about the fact that there is little evidence to prove that it is a matter of culture or genes (I’m sure some would disagree). Some believe that most people cheat when they can, any where they can, with any background. What is it then that makes a city like Berlin or Tokyo so clean and progressive in public awareness and that makes Tehran and many other cities (i.e. New York City, Mexico City, Cairo, Istanbul, downtown Los Angeles,… the list goes on forever…) the way they are?

I would argue that “incentive” is the main factor. Incentive is what makes me evaluate the cost/benefits of my actions and make a decision on whether it’s worth perusing and taking the risks.  This automatic cost/benefit analysis that takes place in my head is not only economic (money related).  Much of it has to do with my fear of social embarrassment, punishment of various degrees, and my own social awareness of the influences of my actions on my own future and that of others,…

Read the rest of this entry »

pakistan hit by quake

29 10 2008

[By Shideh]   Pakistan suffered from a magnitude 6.4 earthquake today: about 500 people were killed and thousands were left homeless. I want to offer my condolences to the people of Pakistan and particularly to those who were affected. It is truly heart-breaking and it’s a shame that we still witness such losses in a century of information technology and knowledge.  




Photo courtesy of Daily Nation



The tremor is reported to have flattened entire villages (click here for more detail).  The earthquake struck southwest Pakistan before dawn as people were preparing for the first prayer of the day. Many evacuated their homes after the first, smaller tremor shook their houses, went outside and waited for awhile but returned back in because of cold weather. It is reported that about 20 minutes later the large earthquake hit, flattening many houses and killing hundreds.


The earthquake was located about 60km northeast of the provincial capital Quetta.  Timber and mud with heavy walls are common construction materials in the area. The challenge now is to provide food and shelter to those who survived – in this cold weather. The ability of the government to respond effectively to the people’s urgent needs is questionable. Click here for news.


This earthquake affected a few villages in Pakistan, but it is yet another warning to every village and city in the region where active faults are present.  All these cities will face the same fate sooner or later when the next earthquake hits (in Pakistan, India, Iran, Turkey, etc.).  Why does it remain to be a challenge to understand the risks that we are facing and to act promptly? Read the rest of this entry »

tehran vs. tokyo

17 10 2008

[By Shideh]   Tehran mayor, Mr. Qalibaf, has been trying to learn from and collaborate with other big cities in the world to improve Tehran in many ways.  I find his attempts promising and in the right direction: http://www.tehrantimes.com/index_View.asp?code=180227


Tehran can learn a great deal from Tokyo in terms of pollution reduction and earthquake safety.  Perhaps Japan is one of the few remaining nations that has not paid much attention to the US attempts to impose international sanctions on Iran – up to debate.  This is a great start for Qalibaf to attract Japanese investment and collaborate with the mayor of Tokyo to improve Tehran’s infrastructure.  However, an important part of the problem in Tehran and Iran in general is not related to technical expertise and lack of knowledge.  The main problem seems to be deeply rooted in social awareness and culture.  It takes a great number of local experts on the social psychology of Tehranians to solve the essential problems that are unique to Tehran and do not apply to Tokyo.  Japan in particular has a culture vastly different from those of Iranians and I hope that their solutions and policies will not be blindly applied to Tehran. Iran has a history of blindly following policies of developed nations to improve its system (i.e. education, infrastructure, architecture, city planning, etc.) and my impression is that these attempts have lead to disastrous results and confusion on our own social/cultural identity.