NR 2007-10
May 16, 2007

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886


SACRAMENTO – Although the view of the Himalayas is stunning, Pakistan might not be Dr. Anthony Shakal’s first choice for a quick getaway. But as a location in which to further the scientific community’s knowledge of earthquakes and foster international cooperation, it was practically paradise.

Shakal, who has led the California Geological Survey’s Strong Motion Instrumentation Program (SMIP) for nearly a quarter of a century, recently spent a week in Pakistan to help the country begin its own strong motion program.

“It was quite an experience,” Shakal said. “Pakistan has a unique seismic environment. It’s part of the Indian tectonic plate that is pushing into the Asian plate and continually increasing the height of the Himalayas. It’s a very interesting place to be, from an Earth science point of view.

The Indian plate moves about five centimeters a year -- about double the movement seen along the San Andreas Fault. The faulting regime in Pakistan is similar to that of Southern California, with a number of significant blind-thrust faults, like the one that caused the Northridge earthquake.

In October of 2005, Pakistan experienced a magnitude 7.6 earthquake – slightly smaller than the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 – that caused 80,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage.

Realizing that improved building codes and earthquake preparedness techniques could help reduce the destruction caused by future earthquakes, Pakistan dispatched professor Ali Syed of the Earthquake Engineering Center at the University of Engineering and Technology in Peshawar to the United States. Syed met with officials from the California Institute of Technology, the U.S. Geological Survey, UC Berkeley and CGS, a branch of the California Department of Conservation.

The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute – an Oakland-based association dedicated to reducing the risk of earthquakes to the public – suggested holding an exchange visit. Shakal was nominated to participate, and the National Academy of Science arranged the trip. The U.S. Agency for International Development covered his expenses.

"It was an honor to have California’s strong motion program selected as a model by a foreign nation working to establish its own program,” said State Geologist Dr. John Parrish, head of CGS. “Pakistan turned to California for advice and assistance in recognition that the state has taken a lead role in addressing earthquake issues. We were pleased to cooperate."

In years past, Shakal visited India and CGS engineer Dr. Moh Huang traveled to Japan to compare notes on seismic monitoring. An invitation to visit China and help with their program expansion is under consideration.

“When the magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck, Pakistan didn’t have active building codes in place,” Shakal said. “In Islamabad, the capital, a 12-story building collapsed in the earthquake. The Pakistanis were interested in setting up a monitoring system that would describe how their buildings respond to earthquakes and how the ground shaking there is affected by distance from the epicenter to help their engineers raise the level of seismic safety in their designs. We told professor Syed about policies and procedures used here in California when he visited. The Pakistani government thought it made a lot of sense to move in that direction.”

SMIP was established in 1971, after the devastating San Fernando earthquake, to obtain vital data for the engineering and scientific communities through a statewide network of instruments. When activated by earthquake shaking, these “accelerographs” produce a record from which the critical characteristics of ground motion – acceleration, velocity and displacement – can be calculated.

The information is processed and disseminated to seismologists, engineers, building officials, local governments and emergency response personnel throughout the state. The data is used primarily to recommend changes to building codes, and assist local governments in their general plan process. SMIP also partners with the USGS, California Institute of Technology and UC Berkeley in the California Integrated Seismic Network. Real-time data collected by the network is used to produce a “ShakeMap” within minutes of a strong earthquake to help guide emergency response efforts.

The Applied Technology Council last year honored SMIP as one of the top seismic programs of the 20th century.

“Pakistan has decided to name their program PkSMIP, which we take to be a real compliment,” Parrish said.

SMIP has installed more than 1,000 instrument stations around the state in a variety of structures, including major bridges, high-rise buildings, dams, hospitals and industrial facilities. Among the instrumented sites are the city halls of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, and the state capitol. Accelerographs also are placed in open land to measure the motion of the ground and the effects of earthquake shaking on different types of soils. An advisory committee of engineers and scientists representing industry, government and universities help select SMIP’s station locations. SMIP technicians are currently working on bridges in the Bay area and Long Beach.

While in Pakistan, Shakal helped his colleagues plan the instrumentation of two bridges and two buildings in the Islamabad and Peshawar areas.

“We studied the blueprints and laid out sensor configuration plans,” Shakal said. “They will go through similar procedures on other structures. In the first phase, they plan to instrument 12 structures. They’re off to a good start.”

In exchange for their expertise, CGS will be fed information from the Pakistani program.

“We’re likely to get data from large earthquakes sooner from Pakistan than we are from California,” Shakal said. “We have records from many earthquakes magnitude 6 and smaller, but only a few from magnitude 7 and larger events. These records are really needed to guide the design of structures to withstand the big events – but we have few records of what the forces are like. There’s a little uncertainty about the frequency of large earthquakes in Pakistan, but they’re definitely in harm’s way and have more frequent large earthquakes than we do.”

Overall, Shakal was impressed with Pakistan’s commitment to improving seismic safety.

“A striking thing is that despite the difficulties facing the country, there is a core of dedicated people, many with degrees from U.S. universities, trying to make real improvements,” he said. “Although Pakistan is not a rich country, if the regional tensions are settled, the people there can make good progress in their country.”