KUALA LUMPUR (June 13): A seismic code of practice for new buildings is in the final stages of being formulated and submitted to the government for implementation to ensure development projects, including those in Kuala Lumpur, will be able to withstand the impact of an earthquake.

Once this is in place, buildings being constructed in seismic zones will be required to follow the code for low, moderate and high seismic zones.

“Once this code is formulated it will be applied mostly to buildings in areas along seismic zones that are being identified,” said Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) School of Civil Engineering Associate Professor and Deputy Dean (Academic) Dr Taksiah A. Majid.

The implementation of the requirements of the code is not expected to increase construction costs, she told The Malaysian Insider.

Based on studies, construction of a simple school in accordance to the code will only make up 1% of the total cost, she added.

Peninsular Malaysia was free from seismic activity for a long time but the reactivation of ancient fault lines and the detection of seismic activity in fault zones like that in Bukit Tinggi, Pahang, in 2008, has forced experts and authorities to look into the structural safety of buildings, especially in Kuala Lumpur where there are many highrise buildings.

Kuala Lumpur mayor Tan Sri Ahmad Phesal Talib had said on Thursday that the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would be drawing up guidelines, similar to its Hillslope Development Guideline, to face the eventuality of earthquake in the city.

He had said that DBKL’s Urban Planning Department would be meeting experts from the Board of Engineers, Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association and universities soon to brainstorm the guidelines.

He said the guidelines would include engineering requirements when constructing new buildings and technical solutions for the existing ones.

Taksiah said the seismic code, which was initiated eight years ago, would be mandatory for buildings in moderate and high-risk seismic zones in future.

She said it all depends on the detailing and proper placement of reinforcements to be able to withstand seismic loading when an earthquake hits.

“The strengthening of present buildings might incur some additional costs, but there are countries where materials for strengthening and reinforcement of current structures can be sourced from," she said.

"Once the code is released, we expect more developers to include seismic designs in their structures."

Taksiah said the code will especially be relevant in medium seismic regions.

In areas considered low seismic zones, the code will apply to certain structures, especially schools and hospitals which become the focal points in times of disaster.

The code will enable architects and designers to have a point of reference on what they need to consider in terms of building and structure safety in a seismic zone, Taksiah said.

Peninsular Malaysia is classified as a low seismic region (defined by less than 0.06 peak ground acceleration or how hard the earth shakes in a given geographic area).

But Sarawak and especially Sabah, particularly the regions of Ranau, Kundasang and Lahad Datu, are areas within a moderate seismic region as they are located closer to the Pacific Ring of Fire.

“Even if we are in a low seismic region, we need to be prepared because although most of the earthquakes detected here are below 4 in magnitude, the situation in the future is very unpredictable because as you know we are seeing fault lines that have been dormant being reactivated,” said Taksiah.

Seismic activity in the country in recent years and especially the earthquake in Ranau earlier this month is an indication of how most buildings in this country are unable to withstand an earthquake, she said.

"You can’t blame anyone for this because if there was a code, then building architects can design in accordance to the code, but there was none," she said.

The code is being formulated under the purview of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, and by a team of experts in various fields including structural engineering, geology, meteorology, mapping and local authorities among others.

On Thursday, The Malaysian Insider had quoted Universiti Malaya Geology Department Associate Professor Mustaffa Kamal Shuib as saying that epicentres had been detected along ancient fault lines in Peninsular Malaysia.

These fault lines have been reactivated by active tectonic plates boundaries that surround the Sunda Shelf that the peninsula sits on.

Peninsular Malaysia is at the centre of the shelf, also known as Sundaland, which is absorbing all the stress from around it.

“Sooner or later the earth has to find some release by breaking through old fault line systems,” said Mustaffa whose field of research is structural geology and tectonics.

“This causes earthquakes."

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