Earthquake expert slams lack of new construction standards: ‘We have learned nothing from the 2016 quake’

Apr 17, 2017 | 11 comments

The assistant director of Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute says the country is ignoring the painful lessons from last year’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Hugo Yepes of the Geophysical Institute

According to Hugo Yepes, another strong coastal earthquake will find the country is in the same position it was in before last year’s massive earthquake and the 1998 earth quake in Bahía de Caráquez. “It is irresponsible and it is sad that we are not making the systemic changes to construction practices that will protect us from the loss of life and property in the future,” he said in an interview with the Quito newspaper El Comercio.

“What was promised after April 16, 2016 was a top-to-bottom change of practices and regulation to protect the country from another disaster and it has not happened,” Yepes says. “This involves national and local governments, educators, suppliers as well as builders and owners and, unfortunately, we are rebuilding the same way we did before the earthquake. We have not learned our lesson.”

Although some new procedures have been adopted at the local level, says Yepes, they vary from community to community, and have little coordination from the national level. In 2016, officials from President Rafael Correa, provincial governors and prefects, to municipal council members promised a thorough review of building standards before rebuilding began. “There has been a failure in the chain of command,” Yepes says.

According to Yepes, who received his university degrees in the U.S. and France, buildings can be constructed to withstand earthquakes of the intensity of the 2016 event. “It is done in Chile and Japan, where buildings survive earthquakes even stronger than ours, with minimal structural damage,” he says. “Those countries learned their lesson years ago and applied seismologic and forensic engineering practices, but there seems to be no incentive to do this in Ecuador.”

He adds: “The lesson taken away from 2016 in Ecuador seems to be that it was an act of God. Our approach is to cross our fingers that there will not be another big earthquake, but it can not be stopped because we live in a seismically country.”

Yepes says better construction standards begin at the top, with the government understanding their importance, but they then should be passed down to the entire energy. “It begins with educating engineers and architects, who then require the builders to conform to the standards. It then falls upon the government to enforce the standards.”

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