While prediction of quakes is ‘impossible’, risk mitigation is imperative

Jordanian experts offer perspective on Kingdom’s seismic status

turkey earthquake PSD
(Photo: Public Security Directorate)
AMMAN — The head of the Jordan Seismological Observatory, Ghassan Sweidan, told Jordan News that predicting earthquakes is “impossible and unscientific”, stating that social media has spread panic among the public regarding a possible future earthquake.اضافة اعلان

While it is possible to look back on past earthquake data and written historical records to gain insight into the patterns of a region’s tectonic activity, it is impossible to predict the timing, location, and strength of a future earthquake, he said.

‘More harm than good’Geology expert at the Hashemite University, Dr Eid Al-Torzi, confirmed that upcoming earthquakes cannot be predicted.

Moreover, he argued, if prediction were possible, it would do “more harm than good”, because a predicted earthquake would place the public in a state of chaos and panic, especially since such natural disasters are not preventable.

Instead, countries typically focus on mitigation strategies, Torzi told Jordan News.

MitigationWhen it comes to earthquakes, mitigation usually involves three main stages: First, studies are conducted to determine the seismic risk of a region throughout history, as earthquakes can often occur in the same locations at different times.

If prediction were possible, it would do “more harm than good”, because a predicted earthquake would place the public in a state of chaos and panic
Then, engineering, architecture, and building codes must take into account potential natural disasters to reduce the scope of damage.

Finally, personnel should be trained to respond to any incidents by shifting rubble, conducting rescue operations, and meeting the medical, psychological, and financial needs of those affected.

“This requires the concerted efforts of all those involved,” Torzi said.

Jordan’s seismic situationIn terms of the Kingdom’s earthquake risk, its three largest cities (Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid) are all located within 30km of its main source of seismic activity, the Jordan Dead Sea Transform Fault.

These cities house more than 80 percent of the country’s population, according to the Jordan National Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Strategy 2019-2022, which identified earthquakes as its top preventative priority.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction states that Amman was last drastically effected by a destructive quake on July 11, 1927. The epicenter of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake was estimated to be in Jordan Valley, near the present Damya bridge.

While that earthquake resulted in 342 deaths, damages and casualties in Amman itself were minor. This is the strongest earthquake in Amman in recent history.

In terms of the Kingdom as a whole, the 1995 Gulf of Aqaba earthquake was the most recent major seismic event, with an epicenter located around 90km south of Aqaba, according to the DRR.

No deaths were reported from this earthquake, which was strongly felt as far as the north of the Kingdom.

According to the Jordanian Seismological Observatory, 20 to 50 earthquakes of a magnitude of four and above occur every year along the Dead Sea fault. These are considered small earthquakes.

The recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, Torzi said, will not affect the activation of the Dead Sea fault, because the tectonic systems in each zone are unique and completely separate.  

Fears and rumorsSociologist Hussein Khuzaie said that fear and rumors about earthquakes are currently spreading in Jordan largely because of the scale of destruction and the great losses resulting from the earthquake in Turkey.

The circulation of pictures and videos of rescue operations, children buried under rubble, and deaths and injuries, has contributed to the panic, he told Jordan News.

A better tactic is to start preparing educational programs about earthquake safety and focus on social solidarity and voluntary work to address areas vulnerable to earthquakes, he said. 

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