By Andreas Theodotou
An earthquake is an event that we cannot prevent or predict when it will occur. What we can do as a state is fortify our structures so that they can withstand such an event. Our primary concern is the protection of human life, followed by minimizing damage to buildings and infrastructure, in order to mitigate the economic consequences that individuals and the state may face, including compensation and other expenses. Additionally, this will also reduce the time that some may have to evacuate their homes until they are safely restored.
The need for the establishment of the Cyprus Seismic Protection Organization arises from the necessity of having an entity that will consistently manage seismic protection matters. We often remember to protect buildings from earthquakes each time a seismic event occurs in our region. Indeed, the very powerful earthquake in Turkey a few months ago, which resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, shook up many responsible authorities and ordinary citizens in our country, bringing the issue of seismic protection of buildings back to the forefront. As a society of engineers, we have been striving to keep this crucial issue alive for several decades.
After the earthquake in Turkey, issues such as regular building inspections and the reinforcement of existing structures, among other things, have regained prominence. Let's not forget that the "Ktizo" plan for refugee settlements emerged after the earthquake in Turkey. The Cyprus Seismic Protection Organization should, among other things, keep this critical issue in the spotlight. Currently, a large number of services and organizations deal with seismic protection of buildings, such as the Technical Services of the Ministry of Interior and various other ministries, the Scientific and Technical Chamber of Cyprus (ETEK), the Cyprus Association of Civil Engineers (SPOLEMK), the Cyprus Organization for Standardization (CYS), and the universities of our country, among others. However, what is missing is an organization that will coordinate all these efforts and exclusively focus on seismic protection.
Since 1994, with the implementation of the Cyprus Seismic Code, buildings in our country have been designed and constructed with seismic provisions. Furthermore, since 2012, with the implementation of the Eurocodes in our country, new constructions have been designed according to Eurocode 8, which includes even stricter provisions regarding the seismic design of buildings. Additionally, Cyprus has regulated the issue of additions to existing buildings and the inspection of existing buildings through Eurocode 8: Part 3 and the relevant Cyprus National Annex.
However, we believe that there is a serious problem with the aging stock of buildings in Cyprus. A large number of these buildings were designed and constructed before the implementation of the Cyprus Seismic Code and before the introduction of mandatory supervision of buildings by architects and civil engineers in 1999. Another important factor is the almost non-existent maintenance that is performed on communal buildings, meaning apartment complexes in our country, as a result of our misguided culture.
With the establishment of the Cyprus Seismic Protection Organization, it could take over the coordination of the process for inspecting existing buildings. Furthermore, it could seek European funding for the inspection of public buildings, something that Greece has already secured, and the relevant campaign is expected to begin in September. It could also address the issue of subsidizing seismic reinforcement of a building alongside its energy renovation, again through European funding. The issuance of various manuals for the inspection and strengthening of existing buildings and other relevant publications is also important. Moreover, the organization could take on the task of training civil engineers who will conduct these inspections.
Many of the initiatives mentioned above are currently being undertaken by the Technical Chamber of Cyprus (ETEK) as a technical advisor to the state, as well as other organizations such as the Association of Civil Engineers of Cyprus (SPOLMEK). Given the importance of the subject and the need to constantly keep this serious issue in the spotlight, the creation of the Cyprus Seismic Protection Organization is imperative. It should be staffed with appropriately trained personnel dedicated solely to the issue of seismic protection. It should naturally collaborate with all relevant services and organizations in the country that are already involved in this field, as mentioned above.
Mr. Andreas Theodotou is a civil engineer, the First Vice President of ETEK, and the former president of the Association of Civil Engineers of Cyprus (SPOLMEK).
[This article was translated from its Greek original]