Earthquakes: when the ground shakes at your feet

Earthquakes: when the ground shakes at your feet

The European Union has mechanisms and measures in place to prevent and help in the event of major earthquakes

You are working, sleeping, playing sports… and suddenly the ground disappears under your feet and everything crumbles. Earthquakes are one of the natural disasters that cause the most damage, and we have seen this again with the terrible earthquakes in Turkey and Syria at the beginning of February, which are still continuing with aftershocks and have claimed the lives of thousands of people.

The intensity of earth tremors is measured on the Richter scale, which monitors the energy released with a range of 2 to 10, and at 6 or higher it is considered an earthquake.

The European Union has a Civil Protection Mechanism that includes preventive measures to reduce the consequences of future disasters or emergencies, and also provides assistance when they have occurred, such as in Turkey and Syria.

This Mechanism responds in solidarity to these emergencies with a wide range of actions: search and rescue operations, the deployment of health personnel, medical equipment, the creation of temporary shelters, the provision of drinking water, etc.

Seismic risk in the EU

Seismic risk is associated with urban areas, the age of buildings and high seismic hazard. In the old continent, regions with lower population density have a lower seismic risk, as is the case in Sweden, Finland or Norway (Iceland is the exception, as it has a high seismic activity).

On the other hand, cities such as Athens (Greece), Catania and Naples (Italy) or Bucharest (Romania) have a long history of earthquakes. Other cities such as Tirana (Albania), Sofia (Bulgaria), Zagreb (Croatia), Basel (Switzerland), Lisbon (Portugal) or Brussels (Belgium) also have an above-average seismic risk, although not as high as in Greece, Italy and Romania.

Fighting earthquakes

But faced with earthquakes of this magnitude, what resources does the EU have to try to predict them or minimise their impact?

Countries have Earthquake Early Warning Systems built into their observatories. These systems provide early warning of a severe earthquake by using information from the P-wave, the first wave generated by the earthquake and the one that travels at the highest speed. This wave contains information about the size and destructive capacity of the earthquake, and by detecting it, a warning can be given in seconds or minutes before the much more destructive S-waves arrive. With this warning, decisions can be taken to minimise the impact of the earthquake, such as an evacuation or health alert, a reduction in train speed, a landing ban for aircraft, etc.

The European Union also has EPOS, the European Plate Observing System, a complex infrastructure that deepens Earth science and coordinates research on tectonic processes in member countries and facilitates the integrated use of national data and facilities.

Through its work it seeks to better understand the physical processes that control earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions… by establishing a long-term plan to ensure open access and transparent use of data on a pan-European level, guaranteeing mutual respect for intellectual property rights.