Re-analyse Malaysia’s infrastructure in facing natural disasters, says expert

This is to ensure these infrastructures are well prepared against future disasters particularly earthquakes and floods 


THE 5.6 Richter scale earthquake that hit Sabah in 2015 remains as one of the most cataclysmic tragedies in Malaysia as not only lives were lost, but also buildings and infrastructures. 

To better prepare against future tragedies, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) seismology and earthquake engineering research group chief researcher Professor Dr Azlan Adnan suggested some guidelines that should be taken by the government and its agencies. 

“Seismic design guidelines of MS EN 1998 Part 1 (2017) should be regulated through Uniform Building By-Law by the federal and local authorities. 

“On the other hand, local authorities should also produce seismic risk maps of their own areas so that disaster preparedness and prevention strategies can be implemented,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Enhance Critical Buildings for Potential Disasters

Strengthening critical buildings such as schools, hospitals and chemical or power plants should also be prioritised in addressing the potential risk of earthquakes in Malaysia, he opined. 

For property developers to adapt to the changing climates, Azlan opined that they have to act in accordance with the current seismic design guidelines published by the Standards Department of Malaysia in 2017. 

“However, buildings built before 2017 were most probably not designed to resist earthquakes. “Hence, the authorities need to re-analyse and strengthen the structures of existing buildings accordingly,” he said.

Japan is one of the countries in Asia that are prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis have claimed thousands of lives in the past. 

Due to this, Japan’s building and infrastructures have been at another level, being able to withstand tremblers of up to a magnitude of seven. 

They follow three specific methods of building stabilisers, namely “Tasihin”, “Seishin” and “Menshin”. 

Taishin is the minimum requirement for Japanese earthquake-resistant buildings and requires beams, pillars and walls to be of a minimum thickness to cope with shaking. 

Seishin, meanwhile, is recommended for high-rise buildings which use dampers, essentially layers of thick rubber pads or mats that are placed on the ground below the foundations to absorb much of the energy of an earthquake. 

Lastly, Menshin is the safest and most expensive method, often used in Japanese skyscrapers and high-rise apartments. 

With the Menshin method, the building structure is isolated from the ground by layers of lead, steel, and rubber. This allows the building to move very little, even during the most severe earthquakes. 

Asked if the Menshin method could be used for high-rise buildings in Malaysia, Azlan said isolators are not very suitable for such buildings of more than 20 storeys. 

“High-rise buildings of more than 20-storey are not that suitable for isolators but dampers are more recommended. Moreover, the price of properties would not be affected that much if designs for earthquakes are implemented. 

“Some of the methods to improve the buildings in Malaysia in strengthening and retrofitting buildings are by introducing dampers and seismic isolators. The budgets vary from one building to another,” he suggested, adding that the cost of improvement could be up to 10% of the construction cost. 

Earthquakes in Malaysia 

Last month, the Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Ministry (NRECC) revealed that Malaysia is at risk of earthquakes, following past occurrences. 

“In general, the effects of earthquakes in Malaysia are caused by distant and local earthquakes. The effects of long-distance earthquake tremors in Peninsular Malaysia are caused by the India-Australian Plate Subduction zone and the Eurasian Plate. 

“While in Sabah and Sarawak, it is caused by the Philippine Plate Subduction zone and the Eurasian Plate which are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire,” it said in a statement. 

Moreover, there is a high potential that the powerful earthquake that struck Sumatra, Indonesia, might trigger the ancient faults in the Peninsular, and tremors had already been reported in several spots at the region’s west coast. 

The size of the old fault that could be reactivated determines the size of the earthquake that can be generated. 

As for Sabah and Sarawak, the occurrence of earthquake shocks is a result of both local active fault movements and the activation of old faults that have been compressed by the tectonic movements of the Philippine Plate and the Eurasian Plate. 

Azlan concurred with NRECC’s announcement due to frequent tremors felt here from neighbouring countries like Indonesia as well as the earthquakes that occurred from Malaysia’s own active faults. 

The recent tremor in Malaysia was felt in the Peninsular, respectively on April 4 and April 25, with the magnitude of 6.2 and seven, respectively, which originated from Indonesia. 

In August 2022, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake had also taken Malaysians in Kuala Lumpur by surprise in the early morning as city folks were starting their day. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition