Are the UAE's buildings earthquake proof?

After Nepal’s deadly earthquake, we ask could Dubai cope with a quake on a similar scale.

Neil Churchill April 27, 2015

With over 3,300 people dead and more than 6,500 injured, the Nepal earthquake on Saturday, April 25, was the worst to hit the country in more than 80 years.

Dozens of lives were also lost in neighbouring India and China, while deadly avalanches were triggered on Mount Everest, with many climbers still unaccounted for.

Nepal may be almost 3,000 km away from Dubai, but the emirate has strong ties to the devastating quake. The 300,000 Nepalese residents in the UAE account for 3.31% of the country's population, but not only that, a group of trekkers from Dubai are among the missing. Last seen in the Sindhupalchok district near the capital Kathmandu, the six friends are yet to make contact with their families in Dubai. (Editor's update, April 30: the group has since been found and returned safely to Dubai.)

While watching the 24-hour news coverage of the devastation, it is hard not to look at your own surroundings and ask yourself if where you live is earthquake proof. In this instance, is Dubai and the wider UAE prepared for an earthquake?

The reason it becomes an obvious question in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are because of both emirate's high number of skyscraper buildings. When an earthquake takes place, collapsing buildings and falling rubble becomes one of the most recognised results of the tremors. With the speed that some areas of Dubai and Abu Dhabi sprang up from 2002 onwards, and continue to do so today, it's not surprising that some local residents may wonder if the UAE's tallest structures are earthquake proof.

Just over two years ago the UAE experienced its own earthquake. Actually, the epicentre was in Iran, but the tremors were felt in Dubai and resulted in many buildings across the emirate being evacuated. But anyone who had doubts at the time, or even still do today, over the safety of buildings in areas such as Dubai Marina, JLT and Downtown, should not be worried. Dubai earthquake. Bart Leclercq, senior technical director at WSP Middle East - an engineering consulting firm responsible for high-rise buildings such as The Shard in London - says that the UAE's skyscrapers meet the most stringent safety regulations, and simply would never be cleared for construction unless they did.

Speaking to, Leclercq says that designers adhere to Uniform Building Code (UBC) 97, and that the UAE's buildings are designed to meet this code.

The Seismic Zone Factor maps the world's cities and evaluates their vulnerability to seismic activity, ranking them in zones from one to four - four being at highest risk to large earthquakes. World cities renown for their seismic activity such as San Francisco and Tokyo are ranked at number four.

In accordance with UBC 97, Dubai ranks below zone one. However, despite its very low ranking on the scale, Dubai Municipality requires all buildings to be designed to a higher level of zone safety. Dubai earthquake. According to Leclercq, Dubai's buildings are designed and constructed with a zone factor rating of 2A. Put simply, the emirate's buildings are designed over and above the level required for the seismic activity of the region.

“Classifying Dubai as a 2A is on the conservative side. They’re all pretty well covered. Dubai’s buildings can withstand an earthquake measuring around six on the Richter scale," Leclercq says.

The UAE's quake in April 2013 measured between four and five on the Richter scale, and as Leclercq said at the time, "was a heavy one for Dubai standards." While that may seem a little too close for comfort if the country's buildings are built to withstand tremors at level six, it becomes lighter reading once you understand how the scale works.

According to Leclercq, the Richter Scale is a logarithmic scale, in other words it is nonlinear. What that means is that going up by just one on the scale is equivalent to 10 times the energy of the quake. That means that Dubai can withstand an earthquake that has 100 times more energy than that of the tremors in 2013.

"It could be a while before we see another one. The likeliness of a big quake hitting Dubai is extremely low,” says Leclercq. Reassuring words for UAE residents.