The possibility of a major earthquake is a reality.
Defects in construction is the main contributing factor in buildings collapsing during earthquakes, but the lack of preparation is also a leading reason behind avoidable injuries and fatalities.
Drawing on experiences from the 5.9 magnitude Simav earthquake that happened only last week in the western province of Kütahya, which left three dead and injured over 120, Turkey’s lacked of preparedness for earthquakes was clearly demonstrated by the significant number of injuries that were sustained due to people jumping out of windows and balconies as they were trying to escape from buildings. Other injuries seen during the Kütahya earthquake were related to heart attacks or panic-related shocks. The overreaction and panic demonstrated by people is a very small glimpse into a very significant problem, that is, of people being unaware of how to react during earthquakes.
The atmosphere of panic during earthquakes can be directly linked to systemic failures regarding training and preparation for earthquakes. It would seem that the most rational thing for an earthquake-prone nation to do is to educate their public on how to deal with earthquakes and react during them. However, currently in Turkey, there is a lack of teaching and training for preparation in the event of an earthquake. Inevitably due to lack of training a tendency towards panic is fostered. This lack is somewhat acknowledged by people working in sectors that deal with earthquakes and their aftermath.
Adnan Evsen, a Geology Engineers Kayseri representative, said on Wednesday in Kayseri, “Turkey has not developed any type of scenario on how to deal with a natural disaster.” He added: “An earthquake in Turkey can occur at any moment. Do we have a scenario with how to deal with it? We don’t. If an earthquake were to occur tomorrow in Kayseri, would anyone know to deal with it? They wouldn’t because we do have not scenarios developed on how to deal with it nor have we developed practice exercises.” Evsen was speaking in reference to a recent 3.1 magnitude earthquake that occurred on May 11 in Kayseri and during his speech assessed the possible risks if an earthquake of a magnitude of 5.0 or above were to strike. Environment Minister Veysel Eroğlu acknowledged the need for people living in Turkey to adjust to living with earthquakes. “Our country is prone to earthquakes. We need to get accustomed to living with earthquakes,” Eroğlu said when speaking to reporters after the earthquake in Kütahya.
In November 2009 books about earthquake safety were distributed to schools. Many schools have also had their buildings reinforced against earthquakes. Most earthquake-prone nations incorporate earthquake drills as part of their schools’ yearly curriculum. However, earthquake drills in Turkey are not conducted in every school and in some schools they do not conduct them regularly. Although earthquake education is incorporated into schools curriculum, practical education regarding how to deal with the dangers created by earthquakes lags.
Additionally, family emergency plans or escape plans are not emphasized. On the website of the Republic of Turkey’s Prime Ministry’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD), no information is provided as what to do during and after an earthquake. Disaster and emergency management websites in more prepared countries have preparation guidelines on their websites. The lack of education and non-involvement demonstrated on the part of the bureaucracy can be a contributing factor in the panic-stricken environment that prevails during and after a quake.
More recently, there have been some attempts to develop and further knowledge on earthquake preparations. On Wednesday a meeting was held in Kütahya during which experts on earthquakes and earthquake preparedness, the gendarmerie and politicians outlined precautions that need to be taken during an earthquake situation. Taking a planned approach towards earthquake safety and planning has long been delayed. On the other hand, disaster management following earthquakes in Turkey seems to be much more effective than earthquake preparation.