Cablegate: When the Earthquake Strikes, Will Istanbul Be

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Istanbul lies near a fault-line and on the
seismic path of past earthquakes. The question is not if one
will strike, but when. Earthquake preparedness is thus a key
issue for private and public sectors alike. Discussions with
scientific and business groups show that Istanbul,s private
sector is unevenly prepared. The insurance and banking
sectors are in good standing, but industry-based operations
require more preparation. End Summary.

2. (U) Experts estimate that a major earthquake on the fault
line south of the Princess Islands (only a few dozen
kilometers from Istanbul), or in a basin west of Istanbul
(within 100 kilometers of the city), is likely in the next
generation. In either case, Istanbul will be hard hit. As
time goes on, however, the urgency behind preparedness
measures following the last major earthquake ) Kocaeli in
1999 with 17,000 fatalities ) is dwindling. Whereas in its
aftermath firms drafted business-continuity plans and
simulated crisis responses, today the frequency of these
efforts and exercises has diminished.

Securing the Refrigerator

3. (U) Private individuals are aware of the risk and are
taking steps in their homes towards mediating a potential
earthquake, with some spill-over effects on business
preparations. Marla Petal, Director of Disaster Preparedness
Education Program at Bogazici University, described how she
trains the trainers to prepare individual communities and
businesses for an earthquake. Preparedness includes
developing an action plan, checking the earthquake-resilience
of a building, performing structural retrofitting if
necessary, and carrying out non-structural measures (e.g.
securing appliances). Through such work, Istanbul,s public
has gained a high degree of earthquake awareness. As
Istanbul residents realize it is something they must contend
with, they bring this knowledge and training to the work

Securing the Tax Office

4. (U) Prof. Gulay Barbarosoglu, Director of Kandilli
Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute at Bogazici
University (the former Imperial Observatory and the premier
earthquake research center in Istanbul), expressed far more
optimism for public sector readiness than for the private
sector. Following the Kocaeli earthquake, the World Bank
provided Turkey with a package of reconstruction soft loans.
The last $400 million of this package is being used for what
is dubbed the Izmir Project, a large-scale initiative
designed to ready priority public-sector buildings, such as
hospitals, schools, and cultural-heritage sites. The actual
work has not yet begun, but after years of wrangling to get
the purview of World Bank earthquake reconstruction funding
extended from already impacted areas to potentially impacted
areas, the bidding for projects will soon begin.

5. (U) Concurrently, the Ministries in charge of health and
education have initiated national earthquake-preparedness
plans that encompass Istanbul. Furthermore, the Governor of
Istanbul, leading the charge for public-sector readiness
efforts within the city, recently created a Project
Implementation unit with a new director and staff entirely
devoted to this objective. The combination of the Izmir
Project with Ministerial and Gubernatorial efforts will go a
long way towards making public structures earthquake ready.

Securing the Conveyor Belt

6. (U) The Chamber of Industry (ISO), is best positioned to
assess the state of earthquake readiness of Istanbul,s
industrial base, since by law all industrial enterprises
belong to it. Following the last earthquake centered in
Kocaeli, ISO carried out training and awareness programs for
its members. Large industrial facilities, many of which
suffered first-hand, have taken precautionary measures.
These include business continuity plans, back-up systems,
strong-motion sensors, and employee location and replacement.

7. (U) Nurdan Sirman, head of the Special Secretariat for
Environmental Activities at the Chamber of Industry,
explained how the Chamber in November 2000 published a survey
of members entitled &Research on Preparation of Industry for
Earthquakes and Risks Afterwards.8 The survey examines how
businesses responded following the 1999 earthquake to improve
their preparation for a disaster, and what measures they see
as priorities. Of the industrial firms surveyed, 18% said
they had suffered damage. More than a year after the
earthquake, 36% said they still had no disaster preparedness
plan, a figure which has undoubtedly fallen further since
then. In terms of readiness, 59% bought earthquake
insurance, 59% improved the quantity and quality of emergency
response equipment, 44% rearranged the layout of their
operations for improved security, and 30% executed drills.
Looking forward, 80% cited training as their top priority,
closely followed by 71% who desired greater cooperation
between emergency response teams and the private sector, and
70% that wanted more information.

8. (U) Significantly, the document has not been updated in
the last 6 years. This validates observers, fear that the
impetus for preparedness that propelled initial changes since
the last earthquake is fading. Over time, interest,
enthusiasm, and the frequency of training exercises have all
diminished, detracting from industry readiness.

9. (U) Some businesses, however, are successfully developing
business continuity plans, securing mission-critical records,
devising a disaster scenario, and mapping out the impact of
an earthquake on suppliers and customers. They are
predicting the market changes that would be precipitated,
examining how to deal with delays in inputs and payments, and
considering how to finance recovery. Two firms that are
leaders in their sectors provide good illustrations. Koc
Holding's Migros, one of the largest retail supermarket
chains in Turkey, established in 2001 an emergency management
system entirely at their expense. Migros uses it to carry
out drills in cooperation with local municipalities and
first-responders at different Migros locations. Aksa,
Turkey's biggest acrylic and textile chemical-producing
company, was hard hit in 1999. It has since created a
disaster response unit with staff whose sole responsibility
is to devise scenarios, inspect for preparedness, and carry
out regular drills. The shared characteristic of these
better-prepared businesses is that they assign a budget and
staff to undertake this work, and chart its progress through
explicit milestones. Both serve as models to other firms in
their respective fields.

10. (U) This is especially true of the services sector. The
leading services firms ) including major commercial banks
and insurance firms ) have been relatively more successful
in preparing for the inevitable earthquake. For example,
insurance firms have adapted to a potential flood of claims
by changing the 'catastrophe' services they provide. Part of
the reason for their progress may be that the nature of their
work requires less tangible changes to their operations,
while the losses from ceasing operations would be
devastating. As a consequence, these firms are on average
better prepared than goods-producing industries. Upper
management has taken ownership of earthquake readiness, and
integrated this work into their operations.

Comment on Commercial Readiness

11. (U) Looking at the Istanbul cityscape, one would be hard
pressed to find a single institution that has not allocated
some resources to earthquake preparedness. However, this
does not mean that there has been a uniform response. Part
of the issue may be the diverging resources and needs of
private-sector firms. Services firms only require
non-structural measures and a degree of employee awareness.
Industrial firms have tangible infrastructure to ready and
protect, a much messier task. Different firms are
progressing at different speeds, and it seems safe to predict
that many will be caught short.

© Scoop Media

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