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Building codes could face quake shake-up in the UAE

Dubai Municipality is reviewing earthquake building codes in order to be “cautious” over construction

Developers may have to adopt new building codes to further resist the impact of earthquakes.

Dubai Municipality is undertaking a year-long study to establish whether buildings will have to adapt to a higher classification than the current Zone 2A of the Uniform Building Code, under which a structure can resist earthquakes measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale.

The new codes could be enforced as early as next year.
“We’re being cautious. The study will establish whether the zone we are currently working in is correct, or if we need to go higher,” said Moawya Saffarini, head of structural engineering in the building department.

“Once we’ve studied the results we’ll implement new parameters in building design, so it’s very important to be accurate about what we need.

“We’re not expecting the codes to be much more than 2A because there is no history of severe earthquakes in the UAE, and with structures built mainly on sand, which absorbs energy from earthquake waves, the impact would not be serious.”

The UAE has two tectonic belts running near to it, with the closest being the Zagros fault zone, only 200 km away, making the northern emirates more susceptible to an earthquake.

The last major seismic activity occurred in the region 100 years ago, although tremors have been felt strongly from earthquakes that have hit Iran.

Smaller buildings across the emirates would suffer the most damage from an earthquake because the vibrations resonate for longer periods than in high-rise structures.

“High rises are probably the safest places to be in an earthquake, as their construction is typically designed for wind-load,” said Ashraf Habibullah, president of Computers & Structures Inc.

“If you use earthquake codes in structures designed to withstand strong wind, it wouldn’t actually make much difference. A lot of places around the world adopt earthquake codes as a precaution. And in major construction it doesn’t take much to include earthquake resistance if it is done at the time the structure is being built.”

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