Send to

[Editorial] Prepare for earthquakes

Quake of 4.8 magnitude near Buan demonstrates need for preparedness

June 13, 2024 - 05:29 By Korea Herald

A magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck near Buan, North Jeolla Province, early Wednesday, sending off alerts across the nation and causing minor property damage. Although no injuries were reported, the strong quake highlighted the need for tight, systematic preparations against tremor-related disasters.

The temblor struck near the southwestern county at 8:26 a.m. at an estimated depth of 8 kilometers, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. Firefighter and Interior Ministry officials said there were hundreds of reports stemming from the tremors.

The quake was the most powerful one reported in South Korea and its surrounding waters this year, the KMA said, adding that it marked the first earthquake over magnitude 4 to strike within an 80-km radius of where the quake hit.

It is also notable that the quake occurred in the North Jeolla Province, a region where no major tremors have been reported in recent years. But experts have long warned that the Korean Peninsula is not completely safe from quakes, including such supposedly safe regions, and more safety measures are needed.

Quakes of 4.5 magnitude or greater have only rarely been reported in Korea.

In May last year, a 4.5 magnitude quake struck in waters off Donghae, Gangwon Province. In February 2018, a quake of magnitude 4.6 struck in waters off Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province. In November 2017, a temblor of 5.4 struck near Pohang, marking the second strongest earthquake in decades.

President Yoon Suk Yeol, while on a state visit to Kazakhstan, asked the government to conduct a swift damage assessment and safety check for the earthquake near Buan, after being briefed about the incident, the presidential office said Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soon instructed the Interior Ministry to take thorough measures and manage the overall situation in the wake of the quake. Han called on public officials to provide safety guidelines to the public in high-risk areas regarding aftershocks, while asking related ministries to check power and communication networks.

Yoon and Han placed timely instructions to follow up on the rare quake, but some fundamental issues remain unresolved. Fast postquake measures led by the government are of course needed to minimize damage and help those injured. But Korea, hit by fewer and relatively weaker quakes compared with other neighboring countries, especially Japan, is known to be ill-prepared for massive earthquakes.

According to data from the People Power Party early last year, only 13.4 percent of buildings and houses across the nation have earthquake-resistant designs. Under the current law, buildings whose features meet certain standards must be built with mandatory seismic-resistant design, but the regulation has not been strictly enforced.

Alarmed by more quakes in neighboring countries, the Korean government belatedly recognized the potentially massive danger of powerful earthquakes. In January this year, for instance, the government said it would boost the ratio of public facilities with earthquake-proof features to 87 percent from the current 76.5 percent and ultimately raise the ratio to 100 percent by 2035, a measure announced after a fatal temblor hit Japan on the first day of 2024.

The Interior Ministry then said it would provide administrative incentives when owners of private buildings want to reinforce their property to better withstand earthquakes.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government also announced in January it would complete seismic reinforcement of all public buildings by 2030 in response to growing public concerns about the nation’s poor earthquake preparedness.

The latest quake near Buan has demonstrated that Korea, even though it is located on the relatively stable Eurasian Plate, is not an earthquake-free zone. The government must strengthen regulations over seismic reinforcement and conduct thorough geological studies to better monitor signs of quakes.