Turkey has come a long way in earthquake risk management after the 1999 İzmit earthquake led to an overhaul in the country's disaster management system, said Mehmet Güllüoğlu, head of the country's disaster response agency, the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD).
Güllüoğlu said a series of new regulations implemented after the earthquake, including a new inspection system to check the structural integrity of buildings in case of an earthquake and compulsory insurance.
Another novel step was innovation in area risk analysis. "We now have an attributed grade for every single coordinate, every location in Turkey that shows how exposed this place is to an earthquake. People can log into the e-governance website and view where the earthquake risk is lower," he said.
Güllüoğlu added that there was also a rise in the number of convergence areas - emergency meeting points where the public can gather after an earthquake. Currently, there are 15,910 such areas in Turkey.
"About 23,000 earthquakes occur in Turkey every year, but it is only classified as a large-scale disaster when the magnitude reaches 5 and above. Turkey saw many earthquakes of 7.0 and higher magnitude in the last 100 years, and it is a fact that Turkey is an ‘earthquake country.' Since 1999, we have come a long way in disaster response and awareness, and we've also seen an increase in the number of non-profit organizations and better coordination on this issue," he said.
For Güllüoğlu, urban transformation is a vital issue in disaster management. "It basically transforms buildings for the purpose of protecting them against disasters," he said. Urban transformation is an ambitious government project to demolish old, decrepit buildings at risk of collapse and replace them with modern, strong buildings.
He quoted late professor and earthquake expert Ahmet Mete Işıkara who said it was "buildings that kill, not the earthquake." "It doesn't mean a building is solid and resistant against collapse just because sea sand is not used in its construction," Güllüoğlu warned, adding that a solid construction must use quality cement and proper engineering. "Extra floors should not be added once construction is complete," he said.