Bill Menke's BLOG Page: There's always the next earthquake!
The collapse of the Margallah Towers (left) in Islamabad, Pakistan during the October 8, 2005 earthquake is outrageous! We have known how to build collapse-resistant high-rise apartment buildings for fifty years. The Islamabad authorities are right to open a criminal investigation.
I was a summer intern at Columbia University around the time of the 1974 earthquake, which killed thousands in this very same region. My advisor, seismologist Klaus Jacob was studying the geologic fault that caused both earthquakes. His conclusion, which was widely publicized at the time, was that the fault was capable of a magnitude 8. So rather than to be shocked by the recent event's magnitude of 7.6, I exclaimed, Thank goodness it was so small!
After the 1974 event, the people of Islamabad were probably thinking, Let's hope there isn't another earthquake. Folks, there's always the next earthquake!
Perhaps you're sitting right now in a spanking new Manhattan high-rise apartment or office building. It's built to last a century, I guess, and it had better given all the millions of dollars poured into it. Well, my professional opinion as a seismolgist is that the building will almost certainly experience a magnitude 5 earthquake during its lifetime. We have them in New York every 150 years or so. The last one was in 1884, so we're about due.
You had better hope that the architects, engineers and construction crew that built your building knew what they needed to know about earthquake resistance.