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When the Walls Come Crashing Down, Just How Do You Make a Building Earthquake Proof?

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As I am ushered out of the building in the Delhi suburbs I am told that an earthquake has been felt and we are to evacuate to a safe place. Most of us consider our homes our safe place, but they can be the real enemies in an earthquake. This was a magnitude 5.8 quake which had hit the north of India and one of three recent ones in the region around North India, Afghanistan and the Pakistan-Iran border area, the Pakistan-Iran quake of 24 April being the biggest at 7.8 and killing at least 35 people. With 1000s of homes destroyed by the quake, the question of how to make buildings earthquake proof is a very important one.

We know for the most part where earthquakes are likely to occur around the world. So called earthquake hot spots, which circle the globe around our plate margins, so why do we not make the buildings in these places safer? Well clearly economics, population pressures and poverty are big driving factors in many earthquake prone parts of the world. But even in countries like Italy, the rules of building regulations seem difficult to enforce, may even be subject to corruption, and show a clear lack of preparedness where scientists are considered more to blame than those responsible for recent buildings that collapse. The truth is that many earthquake deaths are preventable and that many more people will die in future earthquakes due to poor building standards. One can only hope that as communities rebuild after quakes, that good building practice is shared and even enforced to reduce future death tolls. Much of that really depends on the psychology and culture of the country affected.

In a recent visit to Japan, I was able to see just how serious they take the threat of Earthquakes. How well they go about passing on knowledge and education to their population on what to do in the event of an earth quake, and how new and old building alike have been designed to withstand the shaking ground. One of the worlds tallest buildings, the Tokyo Skytree, takes its earthquake proof design tips from some of Japans oldest buildings, the Pagoda Temples. It is deep in the culture of Japan that you learn from the past and what your elders have to say, and this is born out in the way they educate their children to be as aware of Japan's natural hazards as to the hazards of crossing the road. So when you are next away from home and the ground starts shaking, would you know what to do in an earthquake?

Dougal has been recently filming for series 2 of the CBBC show Fierce Earth, and is part of the Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) at the University of Oslo.