Given the fact that Kashmir region falls in Seismic Zone 5, resting as it near tectonic plates that have active faults, the high level of seismicity makes it more vulnerable to earthquakes. About a dozen tremors in just the past few days have raised alarm and concern about the structural stability of buildings that are 15 feet or more above the ground, including multiple-storey buildings, hospitals, hostels, hotels, government buildings housing hundreds of employees, residential buildings and mosques, etc. The concern in view of recent tremors calls for a structural audit of all such buildings and vulnerable structures.
There is an urgent need to issue a notification for structural audit of all buildings rising above a certain level, without any further delay, to examine their seismic stability. There are specific norms for design, construction materials, etc, mentioned in the National Building Code of India. Many builders don’t adhere to these specifications, however, either in hurry to finish their projects on time or for cost-saving intentions.
Many high-rising school buildings are either not built as per the specific code and guidelines while others are even without a ramp; in case of emergency evacuation, students will have to rush through stairs which can result in stampede and thus in casualties. Same is the case with other high-rise buildings.
Although it is impossible to predict and prevent natural phenomenon of earthquakes from occurring, need of the hour is to prepare for disaster management, as it is a bit late and time-consuming for safety audit of all structures all at once. Instead, the first step should be to go for safety mock drill in schools and at other buildings housing a large number of people, as well as for residential houses. In hospitals, such a sudden drill can panic patients, so a well-prepared awareness programme, with verbal, written and signage information should be made on priority and publicised prominently for hospitals. Safety audit should be initiated side by side and buildings prioritised for such audit. Expertise of safety team and specialists from private sector and consultants can be utilised to prepare a disaster management plan as per the local needs of establishments and localities.
Mosque imams have also an important role to play in generating awareness and they can educate people after consulting subject experts and students about this urgent matter to devise a disaster management strategy for a post-earthquake situation.
High-rise school buildings without emergency evacuation route or ramp should not be put in use. A structural engineer or expert has to be consulted first to address the lapses. School teachers should focus on preparing students for earthquakes during morning assembly sessions and educate them about dos and don’ts in such a situation.
Old mud houses especially in hilly regions are susceptible to fall, so authorities in these areas need to assess the situation and guide people accordingly.
There is no need to panic, though; listen to seismologist/ geologists and to government guidelines and act on their advice, don’t go by rumours.
The writer has a PhD on the thesis ‘Environmental Deterioration in Kashmir Valley, with special reference to Lidder Valley.’ He has degrees in Geography and Ecology and Environment and specialisation in GIS and Remote Sensing and expertise in HSE (Health Safety and Environment).