In just the last century the country has been struck by eight disastrous earthquakes, the locations of which have been creeping progressively westward on the map. Also after the strong İzmit earthquake, which killed close to 20,000 people in 1999, it is thought that more quakes are yet to come and that a tremor will soon strike even further west.
According to experts there is as much as a 70 percent likelihood that İstanbul will be hit by a major earthquake within the next 30 years. The origin of these disasters is the Northern Anatolian Fault -- a highly active geological area where the Eurasian Plate and the Anatolian Plate are colliding.
However, there's no sense in panicking. Instead, you will definitely be better off by taking the right measures to prepare for disaster. This week, Today's Zaman explains what steps to take in the event of an actual emergency.
First of all you should get yourself proper earthquake insurance for your home. Such insurance will cover any damage to your property resulting from an earthquake. Unfortunately, most ordinary home insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage, so you should check with your insurance provider. You can also have your building checked regularly by a building inspector or other specialist in order to ensure that the structure of your abode is still sound and to discuss possible renovations that might be necessary to make your apartment earthquake-safe. Be sure to protect and prepare your home from severe damage ahead of time.
As a foreign national you should also register in Turkey with your country's embassy or consulate. Many foreign representations have special "emergency lists" on their Web sites, generated to provide them with your contact information so they can confirm your wellbeing. Find out if your consulate has special procedures in the event of an earthquake; ask whether they have special help lines or other special instructions. They may even provide you with a specially published earthquake preparedness booklet.
However, apart from these basic precautions there are also a series of practical safety measures that are actually very easy to take.
The Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute in İstanbul operates a network of 50 seismic monitors and provides continuous information on seismic activity in Turkey. If you are interested you can access the project at www.koeri.boun.edu.tr.
Not all earthquakes are dangerous; in fact, there are small tremors every day in Turkey. Quakes with a magnitude of 7 and above on the Richter scale are capable of causing serious damage over large areas, including the collapse of entire buildings. Though most earthquakes have a magnitude of 3 or lower, which is actually imperceptible, some small preliminary cautions can save yourself a great deal of hassle in case of a major quake.
For example, you can move heavy or dangerous objects at home from high to low places, and you can reinforce critical bookshelves and other furniture that could topple. You can gradually replace halogen lamps with fluorescent ones, which are said to minimize the risk of fire. Also make sure that your house is equipped with a sufficient number of fire extinguishers, outside and inside the house if possible.
Having an emergency survival kit at home may sound ridiculous to some, but you've probably heard about these items for a reason. Such a kit should include a supply of enough nonperishable food and potable water for three days, the average amount of time it takes for emergency services to reach full strength. You can pack a battery-powered radio, a flashlight and a first-aid kit with any special medication you would need. (Make sure every family member knows their own blood type, and at least one of you should be trained in first aid.) And, of course, you might have to pack a magazine and some chocolate, for the nerves.
Moreover, everyone in the house should know how to turn off the electricity, gas and water. Gas especially is a critical problem in earthquake situations because the lines may get damaged during the tremor, leading to fires and explosions. Thus you may want to purchase a seismic valve, a tool that automatically shuts off the gas supply if a pipe is broken during an earthquake.
And finally you may also want to develop a kind of "safety plan" for yourself and your family. You can try to identify possible escape routes together, fix eventual meeting points and discuss other strategic actions.
First rule: Don't panic!
So those were the precautions. But what should you do when an earthquake actually occurs?
Well, first of all: Don't panic! Most earthquakes only last seconds. Don't rush outside or inside, unless you are sure that you won't be hit by falling debris. Inside the house you'll be safest in places like doorways or areas below or beneath heavy, unbreakable objects such as large tables or wardrobes. In case a ceiling is about to collapse, this heavy furniture will protect you from debris and will hopefully create a strong area of open space where you can wait for emergency services to help you out.
If you're outside it is always best to look out for the closest open clearing or any area far from objects that could fall, such as lamps, street signs, stones or electrical poles and cables.
Directly after the earthquake you should wait a little while to be sure that the shaking is really over. Aftershocks are common, so don't prematurely run outside or inside right after the trembling has stopped. Switch off all water, electricity and gas lines still on but carefully check first for fire and the smell of gas. Do not touch electricity switches or unplug appliances if you can smell gas! Both may lead to a fire or an explosion.
If you are sure that everything is OK in your home you can start to check if anybody nearby needs assistance. Otherwise, after a strong earthquake in particular, it is best to wait for further instruction from authorities.
And again, there's no reason for getting yourself in a tizzy. With the right precautions, a cool head and a little common sense, you and your loved ones will -- inshallah -- get off lightly!