Friday, February 28, 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Muqtada al-Sadr doesn't appear to have quit Iraqi politics
Iraqi Shiite cleric and political powerhouse Muqtada al-Sadr has reversed his promise to quit politics. It now looks like gamesmanship ahead of April parliamentary elections.
By Dan Murphy, Staff writer / February 26, 201
Ali Abu Shish/Reuters
On Feb. 16, Mr. Sadr, a Shiite cleric who built a far-reaching political machine in the decade after the UStoppled Saddam Hussein, said he was calling it a dayfor his network of political and social services offices.
Powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has withdrawn from politics, overnight dismantling his influential political movement in a move that has stunned his followers and handed a pre-election boost to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.The young cleric announced in a handwritten note posted on his movement’s website Sunday that he was immediately withdrawing from politics and dissolving the party structure to protect his family’s reputation.“I announce the closure of all offices and libraries in all religious, social and political fields,” the note read. “There is no (political) bloc that represents us from now on nor do we hold any positions inside or outside the government or parliament.”
It turns out he didn't mean it. Perhaps he was instead looking to shore up his own image as a champion of the poor, unsullied by the political corruption that is endemic in Iraq. Since the announcement, the leadership of his Ahrar political bloc has been reshuffled and the group has announced its intention to field candidates in the April election.
Ahrar was pivotal in helping Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki retain power after Iraq's last election. But Sadr has become a leading critic of the Iraqi premier, who hails from the Dawa Party, a rival Shiite Islamist group. Sadr has railed against government corruption and accused Mr. Maliki of taking on dictatorial powers. While Sadr's claim of a withdrawal from politics was seen as a boost for Maliki, the fact that Ahrar will be in the race – with the money and prestige of Sadr behind it – is bad news for the prime minister.
In a speech shortly after his announcement, Sadr once again denounced Maliki as a tyrant and hinted that he's a tool of both the US and Iran. It's hard to imagine Sadr leaving politics entirely.
Iraq's Shiite clergy, particularly during the rule of Saddam Hussein, was often crudely divided into two camps: The speaking hawza and the silent hawza, a reference to the main Shiite seminary in the Iraqi city of Najaf. The silent hawza were senior clergy like Ayotallah Ali al-Sistani, who tried to remain detached from politics. The speaking Hawza were clerics like Sadr's father, Ayatollah Mohamed Sadik al-Sadr, who saw religion and faith as inseparable and was murdered, along with two of his sons, in Najaf on Hussein's orders in 1999.
Within days of Hussein's ouster, Saddam City, a teeming Shiite slum in Baghdad's northeast, was renamed Sadr City in honor of Muqtads's father and uncle, also killed by the former dictator. That reverence, which has been bestowed on Muqtada as well, stems from their willingness to take on the state – and to die if need be.
The Sadr legacy is a powerful one in Iraq. But a Sadr who shrinks from politics in favor of the quietest style of Mr. Sistani is no Sadr at all.
Iraq, which is gearing up for elections in its most politically violent environment since 2008, has not seen the last of the mercurial preacher. Expect him to play an important role in determining the election's outcome.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Exclusive: Iraq signs deal to buy arms, ammunition from Iran – documents
BY AHMED RASHEED
BAGHDAD Mon Feb 24, 2014 4:47pm EST
(Reuters) - Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters – a move that would break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.
The agreement was reached at the end of November, the documents showed, just weeks after Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from lobbying the Obama administration in Washington for extra weapons to fight al Qaeda-linked militants.
Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran. Several Iraqi lawmakers said Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays in U.S. arms deliveries.
A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister would not confirm or deny the sale, but said such a deal would be understandable given Iraq’s current security troubles.
“We are launching a war against terrorism and we want to win this war. Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party and it’s only ammunition helping us to fight terrorists,” said the spokesman, Ali Mussawi.
The Iranian government denied any knowledge of a deal to sell arms to Iraq. It would be the first official arms deal between Shi’ite Iran and Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government and would highlight the growing bond between them in the two years since the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The U.S. State Department said it was looking into the reports.
“If true, this would raise serious concerns,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing.
“Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747. We are seeking clarification on the matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran,” Psaki said, referring to the U.N. resolution that imposed an arms embargo on Iran.
A U.S. official said such a deal could further complicate Washington’s approach to negotiating with Iran on easing international sanctions over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing bombs. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.
Asked at the Washington briefing if the deal could have come about due to Iraqi frustration at the slowness of U.S. deliveries, Psaki said the United States was committed to supporting Iraq and had provided it with more than $15 billion in military and security equipment, services, and training.
“We’re working to accelerate our … deliveries of critical CT (counterterrorism) equipment,” she said.
Psaki said recent U.S. shipments included Hellfire missiles, hundreds of small arms and large quantities of small arms and tank ammunition. She said the U.S. government had also notified Congress of plans to supply Iraq with Apache helicopters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated U.S. support for Iraq’s fight against militants and discussed the security situation in the Iraqi province of Anbar in a call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari on Saturday, Psaki said.
A U.N. diplomatic source close to the U.N. Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee was aware of the Iran-Iraq arms deal and voiced concern about it, while declining to disclose details about those concerns. The source spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The official documents seen by Reuters showed that six of eight contracts were signed with Iran’s Defense Industries Organization to supply Iraq with light and medium arms, mortar launchers, ammunition for tanks as well as artillery and mortars.
A final two contracts were agreed to with the state-owned Iran Electronic Industries for night vision goggles, communications equipment and mortar-guiding devices.
One of the contracts includes equipment to protect against chemical agents. An Iraqi army major with knowledge of procurement issues said that would include items such as gas masks and gloves, as well as injections. Baghdad has expressed fear the militants will use such agents against its forces.
Officials from the Iraqi and Iranian defense ministries signed the agreements, according to the documents. They did not list a timetable for deliveries and it was not possible to confirm whether they had taken place.
Maliki has been engaged in a nearly two-month-old battle in western Iraq against Sunni al Qaeda-inspired militants and rebellious tribesmen. The prime minister has blamed the unrest in Anbar on the conflict spilling over from neighboring Syria.
One Western security official said U.S. government experts believed an Iranian-Iraqi arms deal had been in the works for some time. The growing friendship between the two countries is discomfiting for the United States, which has accused Iran of having shipped arms to the Syrian government through Iraq.
Iran already supplies Baghdad with electricity and gas and reiterated an offer of military assistance in January.
The weapons purchases amount to a drop in the ocean for Iraq, which receives most of its arms from the United States and has also bought weapons and helicopters from Russia and other countries.
But they are politically significant as Maliki purses a third term in office.
Iraqi politicians consider Iran’s blessing as a necessity for seeking power. Maliki won his second term in 2010 only after the Iranians exerted pressure on recalcitrant Shi’ite parties on his behalf.
Many Iraqis accuse Iran of funding Iraqi Shi’ite militias who have seen a resurgence in the last two years as Iraq’s security has deteriorated.
Images of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei now decorate posters seen around Baghdad of Iraqi Shiite fighters slain fighting in Syria.
“We have here a political and not a military deal,” said Amman-based Iraq analyst Yahya al-Kubaisay from the Iraqi Center for Strategic Studies, a think tank filled with political opponents of the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government.
“On one hand it is aimed at financing Iran, which is desperately in need of dollars, and on the other it is clearly aimed at winning Tehran’s support for Maliki’s third term.”
Three Iraqi lawmakers, who said they had knowledge of the deals, argued they were due to Maliki’s unhappiness with Washington’s response to his request to supply Iraq with arms and ammunition to fight militant groups during his visit late last year. Iraq has long complained the timetable for U.S. weapons and aircraft delivery was too slow.
“The Americans were obviously dragging their feet from implementing the arms deals signed with Baghdad and under different pretexts, and that was a reason to get urgent shipments from Tehran,” said one of the lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.
In recent months, the U.S. government has delivered Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones to Iraq as part of its long-standing relationship with Baghdad, which it invaded in 2003. It has also supplied Iraq with M1 Abrams tanks and is in the process of delivering F-16 fighter jets.
Since fighting broke out in western Anbar in January, Washington has pushed to move ahead with the sale of 24 Apache attack helicopters to Iraq, which had been held up for months due to the concerns of U.S. lawmakers about how Maliki, who is increasingly at odds with minority Sunnis, would use them.
A Shi’ite lawmaker close to Maliki said the deal with Iran sent a message to Washington that threatening to withhold or delay arms purchases would no longer work.
“If you went to a shop to buy a toy and they refused to sell it to you, then as long as you have the cash, you can get it from the shop next door. It’s as simple as that,” said the official, who also asked to remain unidentified by name due to the sensitivity of the issue.
A senior Iraq army officer said Iran was the best source for quick shipments as some of the arms used by the Iraqi army are similar to those manufactured by Tehran, including assault weapons, mortars, artillery and tank ammunition. Iran even produces ammunition for U.S.-made M-12 assault rifles, used by the Iraqi military.
Maliki defended Iraq’s counterterrorism strategy last week in an editorial published on the website of the influential U.S. journal Foreign Policy: “Thanks to our rapidly growingeconomy, we are able and willing to pay for all the military equipment we need,” he wrote.
Mohammad Marandi, a professor at University of Tehran, told Reuters he had no knowledge of an arms deal with Iraq, but that Iran would not be troubled by the idea: “Iranians don’t accept the legitimacy of sanctions. Plus, Iran sells military equipment to many countries.”
The eight contracts signed with Iran are as follows:
* Ammunition for light and medium weapons: $75 million
* Ammunition for tanks artillery and mortars: $57.178 million
* Light and medium weapons and mortar launchers: $25.436 million
* Artillery ammunition type 155 mm: $16.375 million
* Day and night vision goggles and mortar guiding devices: $7.320 million
* Protective equipment against chemical agents: $6.676 million
* Communications equipment: $3.795 million
* M12 USA ammunition 20 X 102 mm: $3 million
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Everything available in Pakistan, even n-bomb, said IM member: NIA
New Delhi : Everything is available in Pakistan, even a nuclear bomb, if looked for properly, IM operative Riyaz Bhatkal told his cousin, arrested Indian Mujahideen member Yasin Bhatkal, during a chat, the NIA said Monday.
In a charge sheet filed in a Delhi court, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said that Yasin Bhatkal and his cousin Riyaz, who is believed to be in Pakistan, had a conversation on June 1, 2013, during which Yasin asked if there was a way to procure nuclear bombs that could be used to attack Surat in Gujarat.
“A-6 (the code used by the NIA to refer to Yasin in the charge sheet) then asked Riyaz whether he had found a nuclear bomb in Pakistan, to which Riyaz denied, but also said if looked for properly, then everything was available in Pakistan. A-6 told him that Surat should be attacked with nuclear bombs. A-6 then requested Riyaz to look for nuclear bombs to attack Surat.”
“Riyaz told A-6 that Muslims will also die in such attack, to which A-6 said that they will place posters in mosques for every Muslim resident to quietly evacuate the town. This clearly establishes the devious intention of the accused A-6, to wage war against India,” said the charge sheet.
Earlier in the chat, the two Bhatkal cousins spoke about the “failure” of the July 2008 attempted bombing in Surat that saw several bombs recovered by police and many were defused.
“During chat of A-6 with Riyaz on June 1, 2013, A-6 talked about having placed bombs on PS’s (police stations) in Surat. Riyaz told him not to make him remember the Surat failure, which he always remembered. A-6 said that he had himself placed two bombs in the station,” the NIA charge sheet said.
Monday, February 24, 2014
East Coast vs. West Coast Earthquakes: Same Disaster, Different Creatures
WASHINGTON (Associated Press)– The East Coast doesn’t get earthquakes often but when they do strike, there’s a whole lot more shaking going on. The ground in the East is older, colder and more intact than the West Coast or the famous Pacific Ring of Fire. So East Coast quakes rattle an area up to 10 times larger than a similar-sized West Coast temblor.
“They tend to be more bang for the buck as far as shaking goes,” said Virginia Tech geology professor James Spotila.
Tuesday’s 5.8-magnitude quake was centered in Virginia and was felt up and down the Eastern seaboard for more than 1,000 miles. There hasn’t been a quake that large on the East Coast since 1944 in New York.
While this was a rarity for the East, a 5.8 quake isn’t unusual for California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, where one occurs about once a year. Those states have had 103 quakes 5.8 or bigger since 1900, compared to now two in the East.
The tiny island of Trinidad is more quake-prone than the East Coast, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle.
“In all the years I was at FEMA, there didn’t seem to be a concern for earthquakes on the East Coast,” former Federal Emergency Management Agency chief James Lee Witt said.
Because of geology, earthquakes on the coasts have different triggers and act differently in some ways. And they definitely are felt differently.
One glaring East versus West disparity: When a quake happens in California, geologists usually know what fault ruptured. Tuesday’s quake happened on an unknown fault, and it is likely to remain a mystery.
Because the quake didn’t break the surface “we may never actually map this fault from this earthquake,” Earle said.
The only thing that will help scientists figure out where the break truly occurred are the aftershocks which could help highlight or outline the fault line, said Cornell University seismologist Rowena Lohman.
Most of the times, quakes occur when Earth’s floating giant plates shift, rub against or slip past each other. That’s what happens along California’s San Andreas fault when quakes happen there.
Tuesday’s thrust earthquake was far from the edge of a plate – the nearest are thousands of miles away in the mid-Atlantic or California, said seismologist David Applegate, associate director of natural hazards for the USGS in Reston, Va.
The stresses that cause these kinds of quakes come from far away and mount ever so slowly over time, even building up from the retreat of glaciers at the end of the Ice Age, he said.
Another East versus West contrast: The ground is different in the East in a way that makes the shaking travel much further, allowing people to feel the quake several states and hundreds of miles away.
The rocks in the Earth’s crust in the East are colder, older and harder, which means seismic waves travel more efficiently and over greater distances. Rocks on the West Coast are relatively young and broken up by faults.
“An intact bell rings more loudly than a cracked bell and that’s essentially what the crust is on the East Coast,” USGS seismologist Lucy Jones told a news conference in Pasadena, Calif.
In the East, hurricanes are the worry far more than quakes. Former FEMA chief Witt said people on the West Coast know what to do in an earthquake: drop to the floor, cover their heads and hold on to something sturdy until the shaking stops.
That’s what USGS’s Applegate did in Virginia.
“It’s seared in our heads,” said USGS seismologist Susan Hough in Pasadena. “People back East don’t get that kind of preparedness message.”
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Fault lines and known temblors in the New York City region between 1677-2004. The nuclear power plant at Indian Point is indicated by a Pe.
Most New Yorkers probably view the idea of a major earthquake hitting New York City as a plot device for a second-rate disaster movie. In a city where people worry about so much — stock market crashes, flooding, a terrorist attack — earthquakes, at least, do not have to be on the agenda.
A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University, though, may change that. The report concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.
The implication of this finding has yet to be examined. Although earthquakes are uncommon in the area relative to other parts of the world like California and Japan, the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.
“The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”
The past two decades have seen an increase in discussions about how to deal with earthquakes here. The most recent debate has revolved around the Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., a 30-mile drive north of the Bronx, and whether its nuclear reactors could withstand an earthquake. Closer to home, the city adopted new codes for its buildings even before the Lamont report, and the Port Authority and other agencies have retrofitted some buildings. Is this enough or does more need to be done? On the other hand, is the risk of an earthquake remote enough that public resources would be better spent addressing more immediate — and more likely — concerns?
Assessing the Risk
The report by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University at summarizes decades of information on earthquakes in the area gleaned from a network of seismic instruments, studies of earthquakes from previous centuries through archival material like newspaper accounts and examination of fault lines.
The city can expect a magnitude 5 quake, which is strong enough to cause damage, once every 100 years, according to the report. (Magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source of an earthquake.) The scientists also calculate that a magnitude 6, which is 10 times larger, has a 7 percent chance of happening once every 50 years and a magnitude 7 quake, 100 times larger, a 1.5 percent chance. Nobody knows the last time New York experienced quakes as large as a 6 or 7, although if once occurred it must have taken place before 1677, since geologists have reviewed data as far back as that year.
The last magnitude 5 earthquake in New York City hit in 1884, and it occurred off the coast of Rockaway Beach. Similar earthquakes occurred in 1737 and 1783.
By the time of the 1884 quake, New York was already a world class city, according to Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City.”In Manhattan,” Jackson said, “New York would have been characterized by very dense development. There was very little grass.”
A number of 8 to 10 story buildings graced the city, and “in world terms, that’s enormous,” according to Jackson. The city already boasted the world’s most extensive transportation network, with trolleys, elevated trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the best water system in the country. Thomas Edison had opened the Pearl Street power plant two years earlier.
All of this infrastructure withstood the quake fairly well. A number of chimneys crumbled and windows broke, but not much other damage occurred. Indeed, the New York Times reported that people on the Brooklyn Bridge could not tell the rumble was caused by anything more than the cable car that ran along the span.
Risks at Indian Point
As dense as the city was then though, New York has grown up and out in the 124 years since. Also, today’s metropolis poses some hazards few, if any people imagined in 1884.
In one of their major findings, the Lamont scientists identified a new fault line less than a mile from Indian Point. That is in addition to the already identified Ramapo fault a couple of miles from the plant. This is seen as significant because earthquakes occur at faults and are the most powerful near them.
This does not represent the first time people have raised concerns about earthquakes near Indian Point. A couple of years after the licenses were approved for Indian Point 2 in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975, the state appealed to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeal Panel over seismic issues. The appeal was dismissed in 1976, but Michael Farrar, one of three members on the panel, dissented from his colleagues.
He thought the commission had not required the plant to be able to withstand the vibration that could occur during an earthquake. “I believe that an effort should be made to ascertain the maximum effective acceleration in some other, rational, manner,” Farrar wrote in his dissenting opinion. (Accelerationmeasures how quickly ground shaking speeds up.)
Con Edison, the plants’ operator at the time, agreed to set up seismic monitoring instruments in the area and develop geologic surveys. The Lamont study was able to locate the new fault line as a result of those instruments.
Ironically, though, while scientists can use the data to issue reports — the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot use it to determine whether the plant should have its license renewed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only considers the threat of earthquakes or terrorism during initial licensing hearings and does not revisit the issue during relicensing.
Lynn Sykes, lead author of the Lamont report who was also involved in the Indian Point licensing hearings, disputes that policy. The new information, he said, should be considered — “especially when considering a 20 year license renewal.”
The state agrees. Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to other attorneys general to help convince the commission to include these risks during the hearings.
Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a312-page petition to the commission that included reasons why earthquakes posed a risk to the power plants. The petition raised three major concerns regarding Indian Point:
- The seismic analysis for Indian Point plants 2 and 3 did not consider decommissioned Indian Point 1. The state is worried that something could fall from that plant and damage the others.
- The plant operators have not updated the facilities to address 20 years of new seismic data in the area.
- The state contends that Entergy, the plant’s operator, has not been forthcoming. “It is not possible to verify either what improvements have been made to [Indian Point] or even to determine what improvements applicant alleges have been implemented,” the petition stated.
A spokesperson for Entergy told the New York Times that the plants are safe from earthquakes and are designed to withstand a magnitude 6 quake.
Lamont’s Sykes thinks the spokesperson must have been mistaken. “He seems to have confused the magnitude scale with intensity scale,” Sykes suggests. He points out that the plants are designed to withstand an event on the intensity scale of VII, which equals a magnitude of 5 or slightly higher in the region. (Intensity measures the effects on people and structures.) A magnitude 6 quake, in Sykes opinion, would indeed cause damage to the plant.
The two reactors at Indian Point generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Since that power is sent out into a grid, it isn’t known how much the plant provides for New York City. Any abrupt closing of the plant — either because of damage or a withdrawal of the operating license — would require an “unprecedented level of cooperation among government leaders and agencies,” to replace its capacity, according to a 2006 report by the National Academies’ National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress.
Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant north of New York City, lies within two miles of the Ramapo Seismic Zone.
Beyond the loss of electricity, activists worry about possible threats to human health and safety from any earthquake at Indian Point. Some local officials have raised concerns that radioactive elements at the plant, such as tritium and strontium, could leak through fractures in bedrock and into the Hudson River. An earthquake could create larger fractures and, so they worry, greater leaks.
In 2007, an earthquake hit the area surrounding Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined ”there was no significant damage to the parts of the plant important to safety,” from the quake. According to the agency, “The four reactors in operation at the time in the seven-unit complex shut down safely and there was a very small radioactive release well below public health and environmental safety limits.” The plant, however, remains closed.
Shaking the Streets
A quake near Indian Point would clearly have repercussions for New York City. But what if an earthquake hit one of the five boroughs?
In 2003, public and private officials, under the banner of the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation, released a study of what would happen if a quake hit the metropolitan area today. Much of the report focused on building damage in Manhattan. It used the location of the 1884 quake, off the coast of Rockaway Beach, as its modern muse.
If a quake so serious that it is expected to occur once every 2,500 years took place off Rockaway, the consortium estimated it would cause $11.5 billion in damage to buildings in Manhattan. About half of that would result from damage to residential buildings. Even a moderate magnitude 5 earthquake would create an estimated 88,000 tons of debris (10,000 truckloads), which is 136 times the garbage cleared in Manhattan on an average day, they found.
The report does not estimate possible death and injury for New York City alone. But it said that, in the tri-state area as a whole, a magnitude 5 quake could result in a couple of dozen deaths, and a magnitude 7 would kill more than 6,500 people.
Ultimately, the consortium decided retrofitting all of the city’s buildings to prepare them for an earthquake would be “impractical and economically unrealistic,” and stressed the importance of identifying the most vulnerable areas of the city.
Unreinforced brick buildings, which are the most common type of building in Manhattan, are the most vulnerable to earthquakes because they do not absorb motion as well as more flexible wood and steel buildings. Structures built on soft soil are more also prone to risk since it amplifies ground shaking and has the potential to liquefy during a quake.
This makes the Upper East Side the most vulnerable area of Manhattan, according to the consortium report. Because of the soil type, the ground there during a magnitude 7 quake would shake at twice the acceleration of that in the Financial District. Chinatown faces considerable greater risk for the same reasons.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management agency does offer safety tips for earthquakes. It advises people to identify safe places in their homes, where they can stay until the shaking stops, The agency recommends hiding under heavy furniture and away from windows and other objects that could fall.
A special unit called New York Task Force 1 is trained to find victims trapped in rubble. The Office of Emergency Management holds annual training events for the unit.
The Buildings Department created its first seismic code in 1995. More recently, the city and state have adopted the International Building Code (which ironically is a national standard) and all its earthquake standards. The “international” code requires that buildings be prepared for the 2,500-year worst-case scenario.
With the state’s adoption of stricter codes in 2003, the Port Authority went back and assessed its facilities that were built before the adoption of the code, including bridges, bus terminals and the approaches to its tunnels. The authority decided it did not have to replace any of this and that retrofitting it could be done at a reasonable cost.
The authority first focused on the approaches to bridges and tunnels because they are rigid and cannot sway with the earth’s movement. It is upgrading the approaches to the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel so they will be prepared for a worst-case scenario. The approaches to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street are being prepared to withstand two thirds of a worst-case scenario.
The terminal itself was retrofitted in 2007. Fifteen 80-foot tall supports were added to the outside of the structure.
A number of the city’s bridges could be easily retrofitted as well “in an economical and practical manner,” according to a study of three bridges by the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Those bridges include the 102nd Street Bridge in Queens, and the 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, which span the Harlem River. To upgrade the 155th Street Viaduct, the city will strengthen its foundation and strengthen its steel columns and floor beams.
The city plans upgrades for the viaduct and the Madison Avenue bridge in 2010. The 2008 10-year capital strategy for the city includes $596 million for the seismic retrofitting of the four East River bridges, which is planned to begin in 2013. But that commitment has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, it was $833 million.
For its part, New York City Transit generally is not considering retrofitting its above ground or underground structures, according to a report presented at the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2004. New facilities, like the Second Avenue Subway and the Fulton Transit Center will be built to new, tougher standards.
Underground infrastructure, such as subway tunnels, electricity systems and sewers are generally safer from earthquakes than above ground facilities. But secondary effects from quakes, like falling debris and liquefied soil, could damage these structures.
Age and location — as with buildings — also add to vulnerability. “This stuff was laid years ago,” said Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University. “A lot of our transit infrastructure and water pipes are not flexible and a lot of the city is on sandy soil.” Most of Lower Manhattan, for example, is made up of such soil.
She also stresses the need for redundancy, where if one pipe or track went down, there would be another way to go. “The subway is beautiful in that respect,” she said. “During 9/11, they were able to avoid broken tracks.”
The city has not made preparing its infrastructure for an earthquake a top priority — and some experts think that makes sense.
“On the policy side, earthquakes are a low priority,” said Guy Nordenson, a civil engineer who was a major proponent of the city’s original seismic code, “and I think that’s a good thing.” He believes there are more important risks, such as dealing with the effects of climate change.
“There are many hazards, and any of these hazards can be as devastating, if not more so, than earthquakes,” agreed Mohamed Ettouney, who was also involved in writing the 1995 seismic code.
In fact, a recent field called multi-hazard engineering has emerged. It looks at the most efficient and economical way to prepare for hazards rather than preparing for all at once or addressing one hazard after the other. For example, while addressing one danger (say terrorism) identified as a priority, it makes sense to consider other threats that the government could prepare for at the same time (like earthquakes).
Scientists from Lamont-Doherty are also not urging anybody to rush to action in panic. Their report is meant to be a first step in a process that lays out potential hazards from earthquakes so that governments and businesses can make informed decisions about how to reduce risk.
“We now have a 300-year catalog of earthquakes that has been well calibrated” to estimate their size and location, said Sykes. “We also now have a 34-year study of data culled from Lamont’s network of seismic instruments.”
“Earthquake risk is not the highest priority in New York City, nor is dog-poop free sidewalks,” Seeber recently commented. But, he added, both deserve appropriately rational responses.