Some areas in Turkey lie on or near fault lines, and even in the coastal resort cities it is not unusual to feel a tremor from time to time. In August 1999, an earthquake in Izmit, some 50 miles south of Istanbul, suffered a 7.4 magnitude earthquake which resulted in 17,000 deaths. The same earthquake in Japan would have caused far less casualties. Many of the deaths in Izmir were caused by shoddy construction, including the substitution of beach sand for industrial-quality sand in concrete (beach sand is smooth and unsuitable for construction), as well as the use of cheap, un-knurled reinforcement bar which pulls out of concrete easily when under stress.
Since the Izmit earthquake, much has been done to regulate construction companies, and improve and enforce building standards. Since the year 2000, buildings have had to be able to withstand a magnitude 10.0 earthquake. Buildings which could not were either torn down and re-built, or reinforced. New buildings since that time have been required to be inspected at various stages by structural engineers to verify that the proper materials are being used, and that the structure itself is solid.
Since earthquakes are probably more common in Turkey than they are in your home country, it is a good idea to know how to prepare for a major earthquake and what to do if one hits, especially if you are going to live around Istanbul.
Earthquake Preparation and Planning
Register with you country's consulate in Turkey, so they know where you are. Keep your address updated.
If you are visiting, get travel medical insurance which will cover you while you are in Turkey.
Make a Disaster Plan
- Plan in advance what you and your family should do during and after an earthquake.
- Discuss the plan with the family. The Turkish authorities will know there has been an earthquake and will be on their way, but they will be extremely busy, so you will need to fend for yourself for at least 24 hours.
- Know the emergency telephone number, which is 112 in Turkey.
- Learn and teach everyone how to turn off the gas, water, and electricity.
- Decide in advance where you will re-unite if separated, in a safe place away from buildings and trees, and not near the shoreline, since Tsunamis can follow an earthquake.
Prepare Your Home
Anchor heavy and tall objects, such as book cases, dressers, wall units, and cabinets, to the wall, and/or move them away from beds or anything else you don't want them to fall on.
Make an Earthquake Kit
Make a kit which you can put in a day pack with straps, to keep your hands free when you're carrying it. Keep it in an easily-accessible place, near your bed. Keep a second, similar kit in your car. Think with the philosophy that it is better to have something and not need it, than need it and not have it.
Besides your portable earthquake kit, you should have enough food, water, and medicine in your house to last for several days. Your earthquake kit should contain, at minimum:
- Whistle, radio and torch (flashlight) with extra batteries and bulbs (you can buy an emergency flashlight-radio which are powered by a hand crank, available in home improvement stores). The whistle might be useful to let someone know you are there if you can't get out
- Fire extinguisher, dry chemical type
- Laminated copies of your identification
- Water purification tablets or a siphon filter
- High-energy, non-perishable food to last for at least 24 hours per person
- Water, at least two quarts to a gallon per person
- Pet food if you have a pet
- Baby food if you have a baby
- Wet wipes
- Prescription medications
- Extra glasses
- Pen and paper
- Scissors, a pen knife, and can opener or a high-quality multi-tool
- Emergency money in small denominations
- Clothing suitable for the weather
- Sturdy Shoes and gloves
- A "space blanket," blankets, or something similar you can use for added warmth and shelter
- A first aid kit
Your first aid kit should contain
- A first-aid manual, which you and your family has read
- 2 absorbent compress dressings
- 25 adhesive bandages
- 5 antibiotic ointment packets
- 5 antiseptic wipe packets
- 2 packets of aspirin
- Breathing barrier with one-way valve
- Instant cold compress
- 2 pair of non-latex gloves
- 2 hydrocortizone ointment packets
- 2 roller bandages
- 10 sterile gauze pads
- Oral, non-mercury, non-glass thermometer
- 2 triangular bandages
What To Expect During an Earthquake
- If the earthquake is of a magnitude of 6.0 or more, you may hear a loud noise which sounds like a passing train
- There may be 15 to 90 seconds of shaking
- Building facades will collapse, roofing tiles will come loose and fall to the street, glass will shatter
- It may be difficult or impossible to stand or walk, you may be thrown to the ground
- Alarms and sprinkler systems may activate
- Electricity and water may stop working
- Telephone lines may be out
- Along the coast, a tsunami may follow
- General state of chaos and panic
- Aftershocks, perhaps within minutes, possibly lasting five days or more, which may bring down buildings already weakened by the main earthquake
What To Do During an Earthquake
Stay calm, and don't panic. If you take the time to understand earthquake survival and rehearse your plan, even if only in your mind, you will reduce the chances that you will panic if one happens.
If you are in a building
- Get under a heavy load-bearing section of the room (note where these are in advance)
- Get next to a heavy piece of furniture, even heavy furniture can support a lot of weight during a colapse, which provides an area where you can escape injury
- Get away from outside walls and windows, or anything which may shatter
Note: Most experts on Earthquake survival recommend staying put and finding a quick place to shelter, under something which will bear a load, inside the building. This is because it may be difficult or impossible for you to make your way outside during the shaking, and there is often "room to live" created near such supports even when a building collapses. Statistically, the chance of being injured or killed by falling debris or flying glass while running out of a building is greater than if you stay put. This does not take into consideration that you may be in a building which doesn't meet the earthquake-resistant standards of other countries, or that buildings which are earthquake-resistant may also collapse. The decision is yours, but at least know the risks of each option. Make your plan, in advance, based on your own circumstances.
If you are in a vehicle
- Pull over safely, away from bridges, buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires which could fall on your vehicle
- Stay in your vehicle until the shaking stops
- If you are in a multi-level car park, get out of your vehicle and crouch next to it
After an Earthquake
- Aid the injured
- Turn off the gas and electricity if it is safe to do so. If there is water around the electrical switch, leave it alone. If you smell gas, open the windows, and don't switch anything or off, because of the spark which might be generated
- Grab your earthquake evacuation kit and leave the building if you can do so safely
- Don't use the lift (elevator). Take the stairs
- Go to a safe area, away from buildings, power lines, or anything else which could fall. Do not shelter under a bridge or any other structure
- Do not go to the sea shore if you are near one. Earthquakes can cause tsunamis (huge waves) which will sweep away anyone standing on or near the shore line.Your place of refuge should be on or near a hill top
- Watch for open holes and cracks which can be caused by earthquakes, and stay away from them
- Stay off the phone unless you have a serious emergency
- Once you and your family is safe, stay put. Emergency teams will get to you eventually.
Earthquakes in Turkey Forum: If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please post them in our earthquakes forum.
Boğazıcı University Kandıllı Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute: In Turkish and English. The Turkish government's website concerning earthquakes. Includes reports on recent earthquakes in Turkey.
AKUT Search and Rescue Association: In Turkish and English.
Turkish Red Crescent: In Turkish.