"Buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes"
People at the top of high buildings during the big quakes in southwest Iceland on Wednesday generally felt them more than people on the ground. Many who work in tall buildings decided to take the rest of the day off, and some people who live on higher floors even decided not to sleep at home. But is there reason to fear buildings could collapse in the quakes?
“The short answer is that all buildings in Iceland should be, and are, built taking earthquakes into consideration. There is a demand for this in the regulations,” says Silvá Kjærnsted, construction engineer with the national housing and infrastructure agency.
The Icelandic regulations are based on European regulations which set out how much seismic activity buildings need to be able to withstand.
How important are building materials? Are timber houses as safe as concrete ones, for example?
"Yes, in fact. The most important thing is how they are built. The foundations are naturally extremely important. They are usually very good in Iceland. They are usually built on rock. So that is naturally the most important thing, as well as maintenance and design,” Silvá says.
If people are, for example, renting a home somewhere, can they find out about its earthquake preparedness?
“It is of course possible to get information about buildings from municipal buildings inspectors, though I think most people can be reassured about this in Iceland. I think we are doing pretty well,” Silvá adds.
There was some damage to buildings in the large earthquakes 20 years ago and 13 years ago, “But the biggest danger is from loose items. I think that’s the main risk. Not from the houses themselves. I think they are not posing a threat. Secure pictures, don’t have shelves above beds, all that stuff. Be aware of these things. That is by far the most important,” says Silvá.