The Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) installed six seismic monitoring stations and 20 earthquake intensity meters in the country, including a central observatory system, as a part of the preparation and improving future resilience to seismic risk in the country.

This was possible after the Japan policy and human resources development (PHRD) technical assistance program granted USD 1.285 million (M) to improve resilience to seismic risks.

The project, administered by the World Bank, began from May 2013 and ended on July 31.

In a workshop held on July 31 to mark the ending of the project, implementing agencies assessed the lessons learnt while implementing the project and declared the achievements and outcomes.

Besides DGM, the Department of Disaster Management (DDM), Department of Culture (DoC), and Department of Engineering Services (DoES) were the implementing agencies in the country. All agencies presented their outcome and achievement during the workshop.

DGM’s senior engineering geologist, Jamyang Chophel, said that in collaboration with DDM, they constructed six seismic monitoring stations in Thimphu, Bumthang, Trashigang, Gelephu, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar.

An executive engineer from DoES, Sonam Yangdhen, said that the department developed vulnerability assessment guidelines for load bearing buildings to enhance capacity to assess vulnerability to earthquakes.

He also said that the department customised and published an Applied Technology Council 20-1 Post Earthquake guideline, detailed vulnerability assessment of four structures and pilot retrofitting to develop retrofitting manual for load bearing structures and two training manuals on seismic retrofitting.

“To help engineers assess the safety of a building after an earthquake and classify them as inspected, restricted or unsafe, we’ve also developed field manual and post earthquake safety evaluation of the building,” he said. “The project has also strengthened the linkages between the various technical agencies in the government, which was not in practice earlier.”

Home secretary Sonam Topgay said the guidelines would prove useful in the event of an earthquake, to assess the safety of buildings for occupancy. The retrofitting guideline has also built the capacity of the department to carry out retrofitting of vulnerable buildings.

An engineer from the DoC, Phuntsho Wangmo, said the project was aimed to improve general understanding of the existing construction technologies for traditional rammed earth buildings. “The department conducted typology study on rammed earth buildings and developed guidelines for improved seismic resilience construction techniques for rammed earth structures in Bhutan.”

Sonam Topgay also said that the DDM has formulated the non-structural mitigation manual for schools to improve the seismic resilience of schools in Bhutan and prepared the contingency plan for Thimphu thromde to improve their response to an earthquake. “The DDM also procured and provided urban search and rescue equipment worth Nu 2.83M.”

The secretary also said Bhutan is vulnerable to various natural calamities and known to be located in a highly active seismic zone.

He said that it is vital that Bhutan starts working towards improving resilience to seismic risks from the past earthquake experience. “DDM and other key technical sectors have been working towards reducing risks and enhancing preparedness and PHRD project are one of the many activities.”

The secretary said that there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of both earthquakes triggered risks and specific vulnerability of Bhutan’s traditional buildings. “This project has focused on strengthening our risk reduction initiatives and preparedness to seismic risk in a holistic manner.”

He said the implementing partners have been able to build their capacities, improve access to risk information, and come up with manuals and guidelines for risk reduction initiatives through this project.

Yangchen C Rinzin