Recent tremors spark building safety reform

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Recent tremors spark building safety reform

Starting next year, buildings that are two stories high and above will be required to incorporate earthquake resistant structures in an upgrade from the current law, which requires this of buildings that are three stories or higher, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced on Tuesday.

Additionally, the government is planning to offer incentives such as easing regulations limiting the floor-area and building-coverage ratios on existing buildings that reinforce their structures. This comes after the peninsula’s southern region, mainly Gyeongju, was shaken twice by earthquakes just a week apart with the earlier one measuring a magnitude of 5.4 according to the U.S Geological Survey. While there were no fatalities reported, the earthquake raised questions over the vulnerability of Korean buildings.

But the reform bill will not change the existing regulations on buildings whose gross floor area exceeds 500 square-meters (5,382 square-feet) to be reinforced.

“The reform bill reflects comments that low-story buildings are relatively vulnerable to earthquakes,” said an official at the Land Ministry.

The reform bill will also require buildings that are 16 stories or higher, or whose gross floor area is 5,000 square-meters or larger, to publicly disclose their earthquake tolerance starting next year. Additionally, when planning to construct a building that is 50 stories or higher, or that has a gross floor area exceeding 100,000 square-meters, a government safety evaluation will be required.

Although earthquake resistant structures were first adopted in 1988, and the government has gradually expanded the buildings that required earthquake resistant designs, only 6.8 percent of the buildings in Korea today have such designs. Furthermore, among the 1.43 million buildings required to have earthquake resistant structures, only 33 percent actually do, according to the Land Ministry.

While the government has been making inspections of high-rise apartments, these have only been every five years or so, which industry experts say is not frequent enough.

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