Feeling a tremorA 5.0 magnitude earthquake in waters 32 miles off Ulsan shook buildings in many areas of the southern coastal region. It was the fifth biggest quake on record in the southern part of the peninsula. From historical records, an earthquake in the magnitude of around 7.0 occurs in the Korean Peninsula once every 400 years. Experts warn an earthquake on such a scale is in the making.
We are poorly prepared. Only 42.4 percent of public facilities are built to resist earthquake tremors. The rate is 22.8 percent for schools and 40.1 percent for railway infrastructure. In Seoul, less than 20 percent of buildings are earthquake-proof. Experts warn that over 100,000 people could die or be seriously injured in Seoul alone in a 6.5 magnitude earthquake.
The government in May required all buildings of more than two stories to be designed to withstand earthquakes. But those tougher building codes only apply to new buildings. For existing buildings, the floor-area ratio and property taxes can be eased if they are retrofitted to be better prepared for external tremors.
Tall buildings may be strong, but interiors including the window panes are not designed to withstand seismic activities. Tougher construction codes should also be applied to the non-structural building designs.
Safety concerns about nuclear reactors were renewed after the quake detected near the southern coastal regions, which is home to many nuclear plants. Nuclear reactors are reportedly built to withstand quakes of a 6.5 magnitude and the newer plant in Gori is safe up to 7.0. But if seismic activities cause a tsunami, the damage could be as devastating as the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan in 2011.
Korea must make itself more resilient against earthquakes given its population density and urbanization. The government must be thorough in its studies of seismic activities, alarm systems and development of architectural designs. Korea is no longer safe from earthquakes and tsunamis.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 7, Page 30