The term "earthquake" or seismic tremor is a good description of the natural phenomenon which suddenly strikes an area causing damage that varies according to the intensity of the quake and local geological conditions. Close to the epicenter of the quake, the damage is direct, resulting in immediate destruction, such as collapsed buildings and other infrastructure, and indirect or secondary, resulting, for example, in fires, landslides, ruptured water and gas mains, interruption of electricity supplies, floods, etc..
It should be noted that the main quake is regularly followed by after-tremors, which may occur a few hours, days or even months later and which can be as violent as the initial earthquake. These can cause considerable additional damage which, unless protective measures are taken by the political authorities and their intervening bodies, can result in numerous victims.
Seismic waves (usually known by their Japanese name, "Tsunamis" or tidal waves) are caused by severe underwater earthquakes, or by collapsing sea or lake beds which often result from an earthquake or volcanic eruption. The waves produced spread in all directions at high speed (several hundred kilometers an hour) and, even after having travelled several hundred kilometers from their underwater epicenter, may become very high (tens of meters) when they reach shallow coastal waters or narrow bays. They thus give rise to major dangers for the exposed population and coastal infrastructure, such as hotel resorts, port installations and buildings on the coast.
Preventive and protective measures
Because man has no control over earthquakes they must be considered as unavoidable events.
The damage they cause can, therefore, only be limited by taking long-term security measures to avoid the collapse of homes and important infrastructure, such as, for example dams, nuclear power stations, reservoirs of toxic or inflammable materials, power lines, communication networks, bridges, etc. It is the same for tsunamis. It is clear that such long-term security measures will be adapted to the major dangers that threaten different regions. This is notably the case for areas subject to high tectonic pressure or situated over geological faults, the main causes of high seismic activity (for example the areas situated around the Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean).
It is up to the governments of the states at risk to establish local seismic building standards ensuring that buildings are resistant to earthquakes, having a solid base and foundations with shock absorbers or dampers that can reduce the effects of seismic tremors. Building should also be flexible and resistant to horizontal and vertical tensions. However, the recent earthquakes in Kobe and Los Angeles have shown that full protection from earthquakes does not exist.
It should be noted that states with civil protection shelters for use in wartime have at their disposal an additional safety measure to protect their citizens in case of an earthquake and, more particularly, from the aftershocks.
Logically, precautions against tsunamis can only consist in the establishment of an observation and warning system along the coasts which have been shown in the past to be subject to this type of disaster.
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