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One cannot stop natural disasters but one can always find ways of minimising its effects. Safe construction in earthquake prone areas can reduce the disaster caused by earthquakes.
Any prospective buyer of a new house anywhere in Mumbai, Thane or Navi Mumbai should consider first the safety of the dwelling from earth-quake damage before anything else like infrastructure, amenities, comfort level, lifestyles, green cover, etc., all of which are undoubtedly important. This is because all these cities are located in such a seismic zone (No.3) that they can be rattled by a moderately strong earthquake (of magnitude 6.0 to 6.5, bad enough for the buildings) in the future, though there is no knowing precisely as to when this event is likely to occur. It has also been seen that poorly built houses have fallen prey to quakes, leading to extensive loss of lives while properly constructed buildings survived with minimal damage and much fewer casualties.

Earthquakes being what they are-highly complex, devastating and unpredictable - safe construction of buildings provides the only lifeline and if the buildings stay put when the earthquakes go through their motions, loss of lives and property can be kept to the minimum. Fortunately, with the tremendous advancements made in construction technology, it is possible to build any structure, big or small, in earthquake-prone areas in such a way that quake vibrations do not damage them.

Such earthquake-resistant designs are dealt with comprehensively in booklets published by the Bureau of Standards with specifications and standard building codes formulated by experts in several fields. These moderately priced booklets are available with any bookseller dealing with government publications. The building codes are revised periodically and are very authentic.

The buyer should therefore first satisfy himself that the building in which he intends to buy his property has in fact been constructed in accordance with the standard specifications. This is very necessary because this special construction using earthquake-resistant designs involves additional expenditure, which may be 5% of the total cost of the building. It is human tendency to avoid extra expenditure if possible, and so the buyer should make sure that safety has not been compromised in the building under consideration by not using the specified technology.

The buyer should obtain the plan of the building for scrutiny by a competent structural engineer before proceeding with the deal. Even though all details may not show up in the plans, still some idea can be had on the configuration of the building, especially its symmetry or the lack of it. Structural engineers normally prefer symmetrical constructions since in the asymmetrical buildings that have an 'L' shape or resemble a hockey-stick, there is likely to be a concentration of load at the corners and bends. However, plans are at best only drawings on paper and the actual construction is all that matters. Therefore the buyer will do well to get a thorough physical inspection of the building done by the structural engineer to check whether the loading on the columns is acceptable, whether any heavy machinery has been installed anywhere that will disturb the loading badly and above all, whether the building actually incorporates the standard designs for imparting earthquake-resistance to it. Needless to point out that a certification by the engineer on these aspects is very necessary.

Such a comprehensive physical examination of the building by a qualified structural engineer to ensure its seismic safety is all the more necessary in certain areas in the Mumbai region which are perhaps a shade more vulnerable to earthquake damage because of their geological and seismic backgrounds. In the Navi Mumbai region, for example, there have been at least three low-magnitude earthquake tremors in recent years-at Ambe village to the east of Taloja in 1998, at Khairna village to the west of Taloja in 2001 and at Kalyan in June, 2005. This shows that this belt is seismically very active and so all constructions in Navi Mumbai have to be earth-quake-resistant without fail.

Likewise, localities situated near geological faults also have a higher seismic risk since it is these 'faults' that are responsible for earthquakes. Places near the eastern slopes of Malabar Hill, Cumbala Hill and Worli Hill as well as the townships on the western bank of Thane Creek all need to pay greater attention to life-saving earthquake-resistant construction because a 'fault' has been reported by some scientists on the hill-slopes described above and a similar 'fault' has been detected by this writer along the Thane Creek. And it is well known that proximity to such 'faults' increases the seismic risk to the buildings. The buyer will benefit enormously by remembering these simple facts.
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Posted on : 18/11/2005
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