Turkey

Turkish Seismologists Promote Earthquake Preparedness

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Cynthia Long, Staff Writer, DisasterRelief.org
If a powerful earthquake were to strike the sprawling city of Istanbul, the devastation would be colossal. The poorly constructed cement-block buildings that line the city's hillsides would come crumbling down, filling the narrow streets with mountains of debris. It's a sobering reality for Istanbul's 10 million residents, especially as seismologists warn that it's not a question of whether such an earthquake will strike, but when.

After two strong tremors rocked western Turkey in August and November, buildings throughout the densely populated, industrialized region collapsed, killing tens of thousands of people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. The scenes of destruction were alarming, not only to those who lived in the ravaged disaster zone, but also to those who watched on television from other earthquake-prone areas.

Throughout Turkey, the frightening images of devastation were broadcast by the Turkish news media with reports that another rupture along the fault line could happen near Istanbul, and soon.

"Now everyone is holding his breath," said Prof. Ulustapa Erdik, a seismologist at Turkey's Bogazici University and Earthquake Research Institute. "There has been a significant change in the perception of risk." In other words, people are afraid.

But Erdik said that Turks face a much greater risk of dying in a car crash or from smoking, a common habit in Turkey, than they do of perishing in an earthquake. That doesn't mean that the earthquake risk is not real, however. The North Anatolian fault that caused the recent tremors stretches to Istanbul beneath the Sea of Marmara. Shoddy building methods also leave the city vulnerable. "Of Istanbul's 700,000 buildings, about 200,000 need serious attention," Erdik said. The buildings are poorly constructed, unreinforced towers of flimsy masonry, each of which would cost Turkey $100,000--$20 billion total--to retrofit.

Even if the country had the money, it simply doesn't have the capacity to handle the enormous task of rebuilding and retrofitting. "It's as if a doctor has made a diagnosis but you can't be treated because, even if you have the money to fill your prescription, there is no pharmacy to fill it," Erdik said.

Retrofitting is an engineering issue, and, with the two largest engineering firms in Turkey hailing from Great Britian, the field is not one of the country's strong suits. With the limited capacity they have, attention will first be directed toward public buildings and structures--such as schools, hospitals, and bridges.

But preparing public buildings is not enough and the Bogazici University Earthquake Research Institute will also focus on community education, especially in the schools. While seismologists don't know when the next quake will strike Istanbul, or how strong it will be, they are certain that one day a strong tremor will rattle the city--and they want the community to be ready when it does.

To promote community awareness, the Bogazici institute will launch a campaign for school children on disaster preparedness. Institute researchers are in the process of compiling educational materials to distribute to elementary school children, Erdik said. The institute also plans to reach out to high school students by creating an earthquake center on the Bogazici campus complete with interactive displays and hands-on educational materials.

An American Red Cross international team recently met with Erdik at the Bogazici Earthquake Research Institute and offered its expertise to help educate Turkish school children about disaster preparedness.

The team offered to translate the Turkish American Red Cross preparedness materials such as the "Disaster Preparedness Coloring Book," the "Adventures of the Disaster Dudes" video and presenters guide, and the basic "Are You Ready for an Earthquake?" brochure.

Gregory Smith, earthquake response and preparedness analyst and member of the international American Red Cross team, emphasized that education goes beyond creating materials. "To teach children you have to first develop the handout material then train the individuals that will present the material to the kids," he said. "The latter being the most important piece. You can't just develop the material and throw it into the classrooms without preparing the teachers."

Prof. Ahmet Isikara, who is heading up the institute's school campaign, agrees. "We noticed after the recent events that even our teachers are not educated on earthquakes," he said. "We have plans to designate an earthquake preparedness week in which all schools and teachers will participate. I am directing all of my energy to schools and education, because children will carry the knowledge into adulthood. And if I save just one life, it will all be worth it."

DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement.

American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013.

The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross.

=A9 Copyright 2000, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.

DisasterRelief
DisasterRelief.org is a unique partnership between the American Red Cross, IBM and CNN dedicated to providing information about disasters and their relief operations worldwide. The three-year-old website is a leading disaster news source and also serves as a conduit for those wishing to donate to disaster relief operations around the globe through the international Red Cross movement. American Red Cross disaster assistance is free, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. The American Red Cross is dedicated to helping make families and communities safer at home and around the world. The Red Cross is a volunteer-led humanitarian organization that annually provides almost half the nation's blood supply, trains nearly 12 million people in vital life-saving skills, mobilizes relief to victims in more than 60,000 disasters nationwide, provides direct health services to 2.5 million people, assists international disaster and conflict victims in more than 20 countries, and transmits more than 1.4 million emergency messages to members of the Armed Forces and their families. If you would like information on Red Cross services and programs please contact your local Red Cross. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.