Noor Sheena Herayani Harith1,2,*, Nur Izzati Husna Hassan1, Samnursidah Samir1


1Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Jalan UMS, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

2SMART Structures and Materials Research Team, Civil Engineering Program, Faculty of Engineering, Jalan UMS, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia



Malaysia, a rapidly growing country, boasts two of the world's tallest structures: the Petronas Towers and the Merdeka 101 Tower. However, ensuring the safety and earthquake resistance of buildings is a significant challenge, notably after the Sabah earthquake. Moreover, several developed countries grapple with damage caused by shallow and moderate earthquakes. A primary contributing factor is the failure to integrate seismic design into construction practices and enforce proper standards. Structures like soft stories and reinforced concrete with masonry infill frames are particularly vulnerable to such earthquakes, a concern prevalent in Malaysia's construction landscape. This paper delves into the imperative need for seismic resilience within the Malaysia's construction industry, positioning it as a fundamental pillar for sustainable development in the future. In Malaysia's historical seismic events, this study underscores the urgency of proactive measures. It contends that seismic resilience goes beyond disaster preparedness and is an integral facet of Malaysia's commitment to sustainable growth. By investing in seismic-resistant structures and fostering awareness, Malaysia can significantly reduce the human and economic toll of seismic events, laying the groundwork for a more resilient and prosperous future.


1.       Introduction

Malaysia is located on the stable Sunda plate, part of the Eurasian plate, outside the Pacific Ring of Fire. Consequently, it has conventionally been perceived as an earthquake-free zone. However, numerous reports highlight that Malaysia has experienced earthquakes, mainly due to the fault sources in Indonesia and the Philippines. Small earthquakes with moment magnitudes less than 5 have been recorded within the Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak regions. Unfortunately, in 2015, a magnitude 6.0 earthquake struck Ranau, Sabah, causing considerable damage to several buildings, marking it as a case of moderate seismicity. The publication of the seismic design code for the Malaysian region, known as MS EN 2015-1 (2017), underscores the necessity of developing provisions for seismic-resilient designs for both existing and new structures in the region.

A fault as close as 10km away can trigger a seismic wave that bounces off hard rock and intensifies as it passes through different types of soil. Buildings can sustain damage from structures and soil (Luis et al., 2020; Vahid et al., 2019; Abdel Raheem et al., 2015). In recent times, most damaging earthquakes have been moderate in magnitude (between 4 and 6) and shallow in depth (less than 70 km) (Thierry et al., 2022; Hongfeng and Suli, 2021). The 2022 earthquake in Cianjur, Indonesia, with a magnitude of 5.6 at a depth of 11 km, resulted in extensive damage to buildings, followed by a recent earthquake in Marrakech, Morocco, with a magnitude of 6.8 at a depth of 20 km. The earthquake in Türkiye-Syria in 2023, with an active magnitude of 7.8 at a depth of 18 km, inflicted much more significant damage to the construction. Details about earthquakes and their impact on thousands of structures were documented in various articles, such as Ozbulut (2023), Dal Zilio and Ampuero (2023), Ninis and Hoult (2023), and Nugroho (2022). Since the buildings were constructed without adhering to seismic design practices, Dal Zilio and Ampuero (2023) advocate a rapid re-evaluation of earthquake risk and emphasise the enforcement of building and seismic codes.

Wibowo (2022) stated that one of the contributing factors to the catastrophic damage was the lack of compliance of local buildings in Cianjur with seismic standards. Jonathan (2022) found that the vulnerability of buildings is often blamed when relatively minor or moderate earthquakes escalate into catastrophic events. Interestingly, data from the USGS (2023) indicates that from 1900 until 2023, no earthquakes of magnitude 6 or larger have been recorded within the recent epicentre event in Morocco. This phenomenon is considered rare, as observed in the Sabah region, where no earthquake of magnitude 6 or higher has been recorded since 1900. Given that patterns of moderate and shallow earthquakes can result in devastating damages due to the lack of implementation of seismic codes in building construction, it is imperative to underscore the significance of seismic codes when designing and constructing buildings that can withstand future damages. As Malaysians, a preparedness strategy to reduce damages should be initiated, focusing on mitigating catastrophes. Table 1 summarises recent destructive earthquakes in Morocco, Türkiye, Cianjur, and Sabah. Similar cases show that these are the largest, worst, and most unexpected catastrophes in terms of total damages, with Morocco being the most recent and still calculating.


Table 1. The magnitude of destructive earthquakes in Morocco, Türkiye, and Cianjur in comparison to Sabah.

2.       Buildings Construction Design

In the era prior to seismic codes or before the implementation of seismic design practices, several high-rise buildings were constructed with a characteristic design. These buildings typically featured reinforced concrete main structural beams and columns, complemented by unreinforced masonry walls and a soft story, as illustrated in Figure 1. There are no documented records of earthquake-induced damage to buildings in Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak, and it only existed in Sabah. However, the unfortunate earthquake in 2015 changed the record, as during this seismic event, 61 buildings were damaged, and one had to be demolished due to unsafe structures.

Sabah has witnessed a significant wave of construction since the 1980s. Considering the potential threat of a magnitude 6 earthquake in the future, it is crucial to ensure the safety of current and future construction projects in Sabah. While retrofitting strategies have been widely recommended to enhance the seismic resilience of existing buildings, their adoption has been limited. The primary hindrances to widespread implementation are the associated cost increments and a lack of stringent enforcement of retrofitting practices.

Figure 1. Schematic of a typical Malaysian structure with a reinforced concrete frame and brick wall


3.       Earthquake damage as awareness measures

Ensuring the safety of structures against earthquakes is of paramount importance, and rigorous stages of design, construction, and inspection are vital. It is worth noting that earthquakes of moderate and large magnitudes with shallow depths can cause severe damage to older buildings. In the case of the Türkiye earthquake, the damage to new construction seems to be linked to reinforced concrete frame buildings filled with brittle, hollow red clay bricks. The mortar holding the bricks together rapidly cracks, significantly reducing the stiffness of the overall structure. Poor-quality residential construction and inefficient enforcement of building laws and regulations exacerbate the widespread damage. In regions where building materials are more expensive than labour costs, it often leads to subpar construction practices.

Splitting and displacement of beams and columns are examples of structural damage. Olivares-Peregrino et al. (2017) investigated the consequences of earthquakes on specific building types, such as high-rise structures, hospitals, and schools. According to Masaki et al. (2019), the damage assessment of Sabah buildings, based on Majid et al. (2016) observations, were classified as Class 4 and Class 3 damage, respectively. The Ranau sample and post-earthquake damage from Japan share substantial 1 to 2 mm broad concrete spalling and 1 to 2 mm wide fractures for Grade 3. Grade 4 damage will cause several deep fractures, some of which may be wider than 2mm. Due to the spalling of the overlaying concrete, reinforcing bars will become exposed.


4.       Conclusion

Malaysia is a developing nation, and thus, designing structures must take earthquake resistance into account. The world has experienced several unexpected earthquakes, and Malaysia is no longer safe. In conclusion, it is crucial for the appraisal of buildings to classify and analyse earthquake-induced damage. They offer crucial details regarding the sort of damage caused by earthquakes and the success of repair attempts. These publications can be used as a springboard for the development of incredibly powerful earthquake restoration techniques. Additionally, they can offer information on how seismic design regulations are enforced, encourage earthquake-prone areas to have seismic mitigation plans and guarantee that structures are built effectively to withstand future seismic events.



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Dal Zilio, L., Ampuero, J.P. (2023). Earthquake Doublet in Turkey and Syria. Communications Earth and Environment Vol. 4, No.71.


Luis, G., A-M., Jaime, A. M., Vesna, T., Kevin, R. M. (2020). Soil–Structure Interaction Effects on Seismic Performance and Earthquake-Induced Losses in Tall Buildings. Journal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering, Vol.146, No.5. https://doi:10.1061/(ASCE)GT.1943-5606.0002248


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Ninis, D., Hoult, R. (2023). “Morocco Earthquake: Experts Explain Why Buildings Couldn’t Withstand the Force of the 6.8 Magnitude Quake”. The Conversation [United Kingdom], 11 September 2023.


Olivares-Peregrino, V., Muñoz-Salinas, E., Sánchez-Silva, M. (2017). Earthquake Damage to Hospitals: Lessons Learned from Recent Earthquakes and Suggested Actions to Improve Future Seismic Performance. Natural Hazards, Vol.2, No.85, pp.1043-1056.

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