Korea’s vulnerability to quakes could spark growth in 2X4 construction

By Tai Jeong, Technical Director, Canada Wood Korea

On September 12, 2016, a 5.4-magnitude earthquake occurred in the southern region near Gyeongju city, 371 kilometers southeast of Seoul.  This quake was the strongest ever recorded in the country since KMA (Korea Meteorological Administration) began monitoring seismic activity in 1978.  Many parts of the country felt the shocks and some locations even evacuated buildings.  No serious injuries were reported, but many residents have been suffering from anxiety and fear.

In terms of property damage, the quake and aftershocks damaged the roofs of some traditional Hanok houses, which Gyeongju, the ancient capital of the Silla Dynasty during 57 B.C. to 935 A.D., has been striving to keep intact as a key tourism asset.

South Korea has been considered relatively safe from earthquakes as it is located away from the Pacific seismic belt, known as the “Ring of Fire”, but this latest string of seismic activity has triggered public concerns over whether the Korean Government will be able to cope with the fallout from a major earthquake. This being said, seismic experts have raised concerns the Korean Peninsula is no longer a safe haven from seismic waves and may experience severe earthquakes of 6+ on the Richter scale. 

As a countermeasure, MLIT (Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport) announced they will revise the Building Act so all new buildings in South Korea, two storeys or higher and larger than 500 square metres, will be required to be earthquake-resistant by next year.

Originally, in 1995, seismic design requirements were applied to buildings six storeys and higher and larger than 10,000 square metres, with revisions in 2005 applying to three storeys and higher and 1,000+ square metres and with last year’s 2015 revisions lowering the building sizes to 500+ square metres.

MLIT also plans to require buildings 16 stories or higher to have their earthquake-proof designs verified and to show how strong a quake they can withstand.

As the building code requirement on seismic design strengthen and Korea’s populaces concern on increased quake activity, there is increased opportunities for wood frame construction, similar to that experienced in Japan.