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Time for building reality check
Published on: Monday, June 29, 2015

Kota Kinabalu: It is bounden on Sabah developers to take the initiative to factor in earthquakes of certain magnitudes in their high-rise building designs instead of waiting for a new building code that may take years before implementation.The advice came from former Sabah Geological Department Director David Lee who told Daily Express that buyers of houses and commercial properties may now also demand that developers state in their brochures that their structures are designed to withstand shocks or tremors of certain magnitudes.

"The question is at what earthquake magnitudes high-rise buildings should be designed for in Sabah. This has also to be resolved," he said.

He was commenting on the June 5 earthquake which registered between 5.9 and 6 on the Richter Scale with the epicentre at Ranau. The catastrophe was Malaysia's first serious earthquake and cost the lives of 18 schoolchildren and climbers in Mt Kinabalu.

The 4,093m mountain, the highest in the region, saw boulders crashing and part of one of the fabled Donkey's Ears rock outcrops near the summit losing its feature.

"The Ranau quake is a wake up call for better actions. This includes scientists who need to prepare a geo-seismic hazard map of Sabah for public information and for the Government to create a geo-hazard services or Search and Rescue centre in Kundasang.

"Remember that 'paying now is a lot cheaper than paying later'," he said.

Lee lamented that every time a tragedy happens, there would always be new proposals to avoid the same happening in the future, only to be forgotten after a while.

In the 1980s for example, he said, it was recommended by the Geological Survey Sabah to the Town and Country Planning Central Board that due to earthquake problems, certain parts of Sabah be zoned as "restricted development areas".

"These areas include some 40 square miles of the Pinosuk Plateau, Ranau town, and Lahad Datu and its surrounding areas. Knowing then that Sabah did not have a building code for structures designed for earthquakes, it was recommended that parts of Pinosuk be not developed and for other parts, buildings should be of limited height.

"Since it was only a suggestion, the Board was not bound by it. On a recent visit to Lahad Datu and Ranau, I saw many tall buildings, up to 10 storeys high, being built and occupied.

"Factories for heavy industries are being built on reclaimed sea coast in Lahad Datu. The occupants of the Ranau police quarters were wise to camp outside and not re-enter the multi-storey building until things had settled and a qualified professional had surveyed the buildings to certify its fitness," he said.

Lee added that public buildings like hospitals and schools and other buildings that usually accommodate big crowds should also be designed to withstand earthquake without having to wait for the implementation of the proposed building code.

"Such buildings should be founded on solid grounds and not on thick reclaimed areas for obvious reasons," he said.

He added that with known and mapped faults criss-crossing Sabah and many more unknown faults therein, one cannot predict where and when an earthquake will strike next and warned that earthquakes will continue to occur with greater magnitudes, based on geological facts.

"Even countries like the United States and Japan where hi-tech monitoring instruments were in place, predicting where, when and the magnitudes an earthquake and volcanic eruptions will strike remains an inexact science.

"We are always caught by surprise. For example, Japanese seismologists were surprised by the March 21, 2011 earthquake which brought a devastating tsunami in Sandai. Then the Mount Ontake volcano's eruption claimed 60 lives last year.

"The New Zealand experts never predicted a little-known fault could trigger a destructive earthquake in Christchurch in 2011," he said.

Lee said that as Sabah has numerous faults, one cannot predict which one is going to make a sudden move and cause earthquake but it does not mean that we should give up predicting and preparing for disasters.

He said the people should take the necessary precautions to save lives and properties and in this regard, parents should not allow underage children to take part in sports like mountain climbing.

He applauded the suggestion by Education Department Director Datuk Jame Alip for earthquake drills in schools and that adults should also carry out such drills.

"In this age, we travel a lot with our children. We could experience earthquake in foreign countries. It is better to be over cautious than be sorry."



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