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The Israeli Standards Institute has issued new standards for assessing the ability of buildings to withstand earthquakes.

"Any municipality or house committee, and even private individuals can now receive an assessment of their building's safety in the event of a quake, and how to strengthen it if it is not sturdy enough," said Ziva Patir, the institute's director.

However, infrastructure experts said it is unlikely that the average citizen will be able to judge the standards, since construction regulations are extremely complicated, and even engineers sometimes have difficulty understanding them.

In order to utilize them properly, one would have to go to a special course, they said.

The chairman of the Association of Construction and Infrastructure Engineers, Yoav Sarna, said that construction against earthquake damage is an extremely complicated field. He said the association had proposed a special guide to understanding the standards for tremors that would make it easier for engineers to cope with regulations, but the government committee dealing with the issue had not responded to the offer.

The state commission of inquiry into building for earthquakes, headed by Judge Vardi Zeiler, recently published a report stating that there is a high probability that a strong earthquake could destroy property and cause widespread casualties in Israel. According to the report, Eilat stands on an active geological rift, while Haifa and Kiryat Shmona are also likely to suffer in the event of a quake.

Certain buildings are known to be on the rift, such as the Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat, the report states. Moreover, most of the country's population is located on soft ground, which is more prone to quakes than rocky terrain, the report adds. Other hospitals, including the emergency and intensive care wards at Tiberias' Poriya Hospital, are likely to be damaged in the event of a strong quake, according to the report.

The new standards initially call for a statistical assessment for buildings up to 12 floors based on the seismological activity in a certain neighborhood. The analysis is primarily derived from inspecting the ground type in the area, the location of the building and the condition of its structure. In the event that a building needs to be strengthened, the outer frame, supporting walls and columns should be augmented, and new elements should be added when necessary, according to the standards.

Sarna said that data are gathered from every new earthquake, and the standards are updated accordingly.

The previous standards were insufficient to prevent massive damage, and many of the buildings build based on such regulations are consequently in danger. He said that most existing buildings can be 70 percent adapted to the new standards, but cannot be completely overhauled to adhere to the regulations.