The Pakistan Earthquake
By Saif M. Hussain*, SE
Woodland Hills, CA, USA


The terrible tragedy of the Kashmir earthquake reminds us of the peril of ignoring or underplaying the significance of earthquake hazards and risk. Because major earthquakes in populated areas occur infrequently and are not predictable, most people tend to take the "out of sight out of mind" approach when it comes to managing seismic hazard and risk. To those of us who are in the earthquake engineering profession it can be a frustrating exercise to raise the awareness level of people, especially key decision makers, about the dire consequences of ignoring or paying inadequate attention to seismic risk. If this is the case in the Western world, even in areas like California where I live, then one can imagine how truly out of mind this issue must be for people living in Third World countries like Pakistan.
Most Pakistanis may not even be aware of the high seismic hazard that exists in most of the country. I grew up in Karachi never realizing that the seismic hazard exposure of that region is almost as great as that of Los Angeles! In fact the Uniform Building Code (UBC) designates Karachi as Seismic Zone 4, the maximum seismic zonation level and the same as LA. Most of the Western and northern parts of Pakistan are at an equal or somewhat higher seismic hazard level.
When I look back to my first job, after graduating from the California Institute of Technology, as a Junior Structural Engineer in Karachi 27 years ago and compare it to my practice now in LA there is no comparison when it comes to the level of focus and concentration on seismic hazard mitigation in the design process. And this is even though one of my first projects was a large building in Peshawar where seismic design was supposed to be of major importance. The earthquake engineering field has undergone tremendous advancement in the last couple of decades, especially during the last ten years. Most areas of the world appear to be lagging behind the western US and Japan when it comes to earthquake hazard mitigation, though countries like India seem to have made great strides in this field in the last few years.
A few months ago I contacted the director of an international nonprofit organization, headquartered in California, that works in the area of earthquake hazard mitigation in Third World countries which contain zones of high seismicity. He informed me that they had successful programs running in almost every country they had approached, except for Pakistan where bureaucratic obstacles had made progress impossible, despite the availability of international funding sources.
I hope that as a result of this awful earthquake near Muzaffarabad, concerned government agencies and private parties will adopt a new, more responsible approach towards the necessary mitigation of seismic hazard and risk in the country. Because if not now, then when?
Here is one useful resource for some background information on seismic hazards in Pakistan:
http://asc-india.org/seismic/pakistan.htm
And this is a great link for real time information on world wide seismic activity:
http://earthquake.usgs.gov/recenteqsww/Quakes/quakes_all.html
(*President-elect, Structural Engineers Association of Southern California;
Member: Earthquake Engineering Research Institute;
Managing Principal, Coffman Engineers, Inc., Encino, Ca. (http://www.coffman.com/))

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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