Engineers and seismologists at the recent Australian Earthquake
Engineering Society conference discussed the devastating effects of earthquakes
in the region and the need to improve the earthquake safety of buildings.
According to the organisation, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, equivalent to
the destructive 2011 Christchurch earthquake, happens in Australia every 10
According to Dr Paul Somerville, President of the Australian Earthquake
Engineering Society, Australians are unaware of the frequency at which
earthquakes of this magnitude occur in the country. Describing it as a rare but
foreseeable scenario, he warns that the impact of such an earthquake on any Australian
city would be devastating, given that few modern buildings in the country are
designed to adequately resist the ground motion arising from such large seismic
events. Older buildings are at even greater risk during such events.
Dr Somerville observes that earthquakes may be infrequent in occurrence
but the insurance industry assesses the risk as high, given the high density
and vulnerability of city buildings.
He recalled that falling masonry, especially parapet walls killed many
people during the Christchurch quake while others died in the collapse of
poorly designed concrete frame buildings.
Dr Somerville urged governments and city councils to take measures to
mitigate these well-known risks by fostering an environment wherein new
construction follows design procedures and construction practices that provide
the robustness and resilience required by buildings to withstand earthquakes.
Since city councils will be at the forefront of response and recovery
following the next earthquake, he said council engineers have an important role
to play now, beginning with identifying and ensuring the repair of hazardous
buildings, especially schools and hospitals; establishing good communication
links with Emergency Management Australia; compiling a list of trained Urban
Search and Rescue engineers in their area; and making plans for earthquake
response and recovery.
Commenting that the possibility of a large earthquake occurring in an
Australian city is very real, Dr Somerville adds that the cost of improving
earthquake safety in the buildings is minimal compared to the massive economic
losses and deaths that could occur in Australian cities should the risk be