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It was only several seconds of tremblor and deep rumbles, but the 5.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Ranau on 8th earlier this month sent another wave of chills down our spine.
Thankfully, this incident did not claim any lives and no major damage were reported. The National Weather and Geophysical Operations Centre as part of the Malaysian Meteorological Department or MetMalaysia reported that as of 13th of March there were four aftershocks that followed, a common phenomenon as with other earthquakes, ranging from magnitudes 2.8 to 3.2.
As the Minister overseeing MetMalaysia, I explained the standard operating procedure (SOP) and responded to questions pertaining to this earthquake during the current parliament sitting that is still on-going.
In the event of the earthquake registering a magnitude of 3.0 or more on the Richter scale, MetMalaysia would issue earthquake warnings to disaster management agencies via text messages within merely eight minutes. MetMalaysia would also disseminate the warnings to the public through news ticker on television screens, fax, press statements through their social media (Facebook: MalaysiaMet, Twitter: @MalaysianMet), website www.met.gov.my and the mobile app myCuaca.
Therefore the public is strongly advised to follow MetMalaysia’s news closely for accurate and quick update on local meteorological conditions.
In the wake of this most recent earthquake, MetMalaysia has reviewed the SOP of the monitoring and dissemination of earthquake and tsunami warnings.
Firstly the disaster action team (Pasukan Bertindak Bencana) would be mobilised when an earthquake of magnitude of 5.0 or more is recorded within a 10km radius from the centre of Mount Kinabalu, in contrast with the previous magnitude 5.5.
Next the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMA), Bukit Aman’s Malaysia Control Centre (MCC), Malaysian Civil Defence Force (APM) and the Fire and Rescue Department of Malaysia (BOMBA) would be alerted and mobilised.
Besides reviewing the SOP, MOSTI through MetMalaysia has enhanced the monitoring and data collection of seismic activities in the country especially in Sabah. In 2016 a state Weather and Geophysical Operations Centre was set up at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport.
This is complemented by the addition of 15 seismic stations throughout the state, costing RM 12.1 million, bringing them to a total of 28 stations in Sabah. There are 78 in Malaysia altogether, a vast extension from only 14 stations in 2006.
The upgraded seismic stations network in Sabah can now detect earthquakes as low as magnitude 1.0 on the Richter scale.
In Malaysia, Sabah is relatively susceptible to seismic activities as it is located on the south-eastern Eurasian Plate. It is also surrounded by the Philippine Plate and Pacific Plate. Lahad Datu and Ranau’s proneness to quakes can be attributed to several active fault lines.
The 6.0 magnitude Ranau earthquake on 5th June 2015 set off alarm bells for Malaysia to create policies and guidelines for structures to resist tremblors to a certain magnitude.
Even long before the Ranau tragedy, in 2002 the Public Works Department initiated a study that scrutinised the structural vulnerabilities of 140 buildings throughout the country, including in Kota Kinabalu, Labuan, Tawau, Kudat and Sandakan.
Under MOSTI, the Department of Standards Malaysia took measures by initiating a Malaysian Standards (MS) on earthquake in 2007. As I have described before, Malaysia is migrating from British standards to Eurocode 8 that would take earthquake resistance into consideration in structural designs.
After in-depth studies by the standards committee, numerous consultations with experts from the industry and academia, and the public, “MS EN 1998-1 Eurocode 8: Design of structures for earthquake resistance – Part 1: General Rules, Seismic Actions and Rules for Building” was published in 2015, followed by the Malaysia National Annex to Eurocode 8 in November last year.
We ought to be proud of our enduring effort in formulating this MS, done in the best interest and safety of the public. With this MS, starting 2018, public buildings in Sabah would adopt its guidelines to survive quakes better.
However the parameters in this national annex is only applies to the design of new buildings; moving forward we would have to look into other structures such as bridges, retrofitting of existing buildings and their foundations.
In conjunction with World Meteorological Day 2018 on Friday 23rd March, I announced that the Malaysian Board of Technologists (MBOT) would soon confer professional recognition to graduates and experts in the field of atmospheric science. As of today 3,458 technologists have come forward to register with the Board. I urge all eligible candidates to do so.
This field would be the 22nd technology-based profession endorsed by MBOT, in our bid to acknowledge these technologists and technicians as an important pillar of the country’s human capital in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in the face of climate change and meteorological uncertainties such as earthquakes.
Our preparedness to brace for earthquakes is evident – we would regularly review our SOP, carry out drills, upgrade equipment, develop standards and human capital – to minimise the loss of precious lives and damages to our economy. However each of us needs to take responsibility for our own safety.
In addition to public awareness campaigns on earthquake and tsunami, we should educate ourselves on how to prepare for one; for their brutal occurrence is always unforeseen, untimely and of course, most unwelcome.
Special thanks to the following agencies for their contribution toward this article:
Jabatan Meteorologi Malaysia
Jabatan Standards Malaysia
Academy of Sciences Malaysia