Are Today’s Condos Safe from Earthquakes?

Last Updated on December 20, 2021 by Lamudi

To ensure their structural integrity, it is essential that condos are designed following strict building codes

This article was originally posted on July 30, 2016.

Condos offer a variety of advantages, topmost of which are their proximity to key establishments and central business districts and their great potential as investment properties. But in light of numerous news updates regarding earthquakes, people are becoming wary of living in multi-level buildings, thinking that such a high structure might not be stable enough to withstand strong seismic activities.

This fear is not without basis either. On July 16, 1990, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Baguio led to the collapse of 28 buildings. This major catastrophic event prompted the critical revision of the National Structural Code of the Philippines in 1992.

Most recently revised in 2010, the National Structural Code of the Philippines is based on the National Building Code of the Philippines enacted by Congress in 1972 following the 1968 7.3-magnitude earthquake in Casiguran, Aurora. It offers a set of requirements for developers and construction companies that, if followed strictly, will keep buildings from sustaining major structural damage. Designed to protect homeowners and building occupants, the Code includes such guidelines as safe locations for constructing buildings and the use of high-quality materials.

In a 2019 CNN Philippines interview, Mahar Lagmay, UP Resiliency Institute and NOAH Executive Director, explained that 15 storeys and higher structures would sway more if the earthquake’s epicenter is farther. But low and medium-rise buildings would shake more if the epicenter is nearer.

Major condo developers and construction companies assure buyers that their projects are generally safe. In an interview with GMA News, Megawide Construction Corporation vice-president Ronald Paulo said that compared to buildings in other Asian countries, structures in the Philippines are designed to endure up to magnitude 8 earthquakes. Paulo explained that the country’s structural engineers are well aware that the Philippines is prone to earthquakes (being situated along the Pacific Ring of Fire). Thus they design our buildings with this consideration in mind. In addition, building specifications are reviewed every few years.

In a separate interview with GMA News, Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines (ASEP) head Engr. Carlos Villaraza said that as long as a building complies with the Code, it can withstand a magnitude-8.4 earthquake, regardless of its proximity to a fault line. 

However, in an piece by University of the Philippines Institute of Civil Engineer professor Benito M. Pacheco, he pointed out that several new low-, mid-, and high-rise buildings are still non-compliant with current government standards. This might be because some buildings are non-engineered structures, some are built based on a much older set of standards, and some engineers reportedly “optimize” their structural design to reduce the initial construction cost.

Keeping in mind that no structure is literally “earthquake-proof,” what do buyers need to pay attention to when choosing a condo as close to indestructible as possible?

1. The Location

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) released the Valley Fault Map System as a guide to determine the level of risk of various parts of the country in the event of an earthquake.

According to the map, two major fault lines exist in the Greater Manila Area. The East Valley Fault traverses the San Mateo and Rodriguez municipalities in Rizal Province. On the other hand, the West Valley Fault runs from the provinces of Bulacan to Cavite, passing through parts of Quezon City, Marikina, Pasig, Makati, Taguig, and Muntinlupa, as well as parts of Rizal and Laguna.

PHIVOLCS warns that any structure built directly above the fault line or within the 10-meter-wide buffer zone (five meters on each side of an active fault) are at the highest risk of heavy earthquake damage.

2. The Company Behind the Structure

One of the reasons why people are advised to buy condos only from reputable developers is because these companies know the importance of following structural safety standards, both for their buyers’ safety and their brand’s reputation. It is also important to ensure that the condo was built by duly licensed engineers, architects, and contractors, who are more likely to follow the updated building code.

3. A Certification for Structural Soundness

A building is issued a structural soundness certification if contractors and engineers diligently follow the building code, so be sure to ask the condo owner or association if they have one. You may also check if one is prominently displayed near the building’s entrance since it is a public document.

4. The Physical Appearance of the Structure

See to it that the building has no major structural damage, such as foundation cracks, which can compromise its stability. Should the building be relatively older and have wear and tear, the management should have taken measures to repair these and keep them from worsening.

5. Additional Measures

Many condo associations prepare their residents by regularly conducting earthquake drills to educate them on the best way to stay safe, as well as where to proceed during such an event. It is also important to make sure that the condos’ common areas and pathways are spacious and unobstructed so that nothing impedes a quick and easy emergency evacuation.


Main image via Shutterstock


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Independent Living Checklist: Amenities to Check When Moving On Your Own

Living independently can be challenging as you should figure out things on your own when it comes to maintaining them. When you live with others,...