Armenians commemorate `88 quake

Stanford Daily, CA
Stanford Univ.
Dec 1 2006

Armenians commemorate `88 quake

Speaker event, photo gallery seek to learn from disaster
December 1, 2006
By Maneesha Limaye

Engineering Prof. Anne Kiremidjian stressed the importance of stable
construction, reliable building materials and architectural expertise
in averting humanitarian tragedies after natural disasters in a
Pigott Hall speech last night.

The event, sponsored by a broad coalition of campus groups including
the Armenian Students Association (ASA), Blume Earthquake Engineering
Center, Sanksriti, Six Degrees and Engineers for a Sustainable World,
was half of a two-part event entitled `Mitigating Natural Disasters:
Lessons from the Armenian Earthquake.’

`The range of groups that had a role in organizing this event
reflects the impact natural disasters can have on all segments of
society around the globe, making the message we wanted to send all
the more powerful,’ said senior Seepan Parseghian, ASA president.

The discussion was combined with a two-day photo exhibit to honor the
victims of the 1988 Armenian earthquake and to understand its
consequences in light of recent natural disasters in New Orleans in
2005 and the Indian Coast the year before.

The photo exhibit’s aim was to provide visual images of the poverty
and damage caused by the earthquake. Raffi Mardirosian, ASA member
and organizer of the gallery, was pleased with the exhibit’s turnout
and impact.

`I think it went well,’ he said. `A lot of people were able to see
that people have nothing in Armenia. The pictures really show the
infrastructure damage and the state of ruin.’

While the photo exhibit attracted a more general audience, the
speaker event was targeted toward engineers, emphasizing their
importance as potential contributors to future earthquake security
policies.

`Non-traditional security threats like natural disasters are costing
the global community an increasing number of lives, and engineers
have a crucial role in preventing this trend from worsening,
especially in developing nations, where the engineering expertise
offered at institutions like Stanford is not available for the local
populations to use,’ Parseghian said.

Kiremidjian, a faculty member at the Blume Earthquake Engineering
Center, emphasized the importance of infrastructure stability and
discussed the economic, social and political contexts surrounding the
Armenian earthquake.

`It is important to understand where a country is located and its
political setting when an earthquake occurs,’ said Kiremidjian.

Eighteen years ago, Armenia, a member of the now-defunct USSR, was
struck with an earthquake that leveled its northern regions, causing
thousands of causalities and displacing many more refugees.

Kiremidjian estimated that 40 percent of Armenia was affected.
Twenty-five thousand people were killed, 514,000 were left without
shelter and 1,198 buildings were destroyed in just one city of
Leninakan, Armenia. By contrast, an earthquake of the same magnitude
struck San Francisco, Calif., the following year and killed 64
people.

`It was a truly devastating event,’ Kiremidjian said. `I would rank
it as one of the worst disasters around the world.’

The damage, she explained, was a direct consequence of civil
engineering.

`In addition to poor design, the quality of the concrete used in
Armenian buildings was poor,’ she said. `Supervision during
construction was nonexistent. It was a combination of all the worst
possible conditions.’

Despite great strides in understanding of earthquakes and safety
precautions for engineering structures since then, Kirmidjian said
earthquakes – along with other natural hazards – continue to result
in enormous human casualties.

`It is important to recognize the potential of earthquakes, to
understand their consequences and to not be complacent, but to work
towards better policies that will make the necessary changes,’
Kiremidjian said.

An audience dominated by engineering students praised the event.

`It was a very touching presentation,’ said Ting Lin, a graduate
student in engineering. `It raises the awareness and shifts the focus
away from local concerns and towards international ones.’

`It was really informative,’ said Heather Bischel, another graduate
student in engineering. `I haven’t been to any of the ASA’s
presentations before, but I was interested in the topic. I liked how
she approached it from a human aspect. She truly has a passion for
the people there.’

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http://daily.stanford.edu/article/2006/12

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