Syria’s Public Safety Committees After the Earthquake
After the devastating earthquake on February 6, 2023, hundreds of public safety committees tasked with assessing the structural safety of damaged and cracked buildingswere were established in regime-controlled parts of Syria. However, it appears these committees have been disorganised due to differences in affiliation, powers, and the geographical areas they cover.
Local Administration Law No. 107 of 2011 says administrative unit councils have the right to form a number of different permanent and temporary committees to perform certain duties. These committees, often known as public safety committees, may include council members or other individuals and often fall into several different categories depending on their specialisation.
Among these committees include those specialised in engineering, which issue structural safety reports for buildings or the proportion of destruction in a given area. These committees may be structural safety committees, technical committees, structural coherence committees, construction and urbanisation committees or damaged building assessment committees. There is no unified set of criteria for naming these committees or delineating their tasks.
Some of these committees existed before the earthquake. Local administrative units, especially those in areas previously damaged by conflict-related fighting, relied on these commitees to determine the degree of risk of damaged buildings and provide recommendations to remove, reinforce, or preserve these buildings.
By February 20, there were 100 such committees in each of the Aleppo and Lattakia governorates and 65 in the Hama governorate, according to statements by the Minister of Public Works and Housing. The committees examined around 22,000 buildings in Lattakia, 12,000 in Aleppo, and 7,000 in Hama. Not all new committees belong to local administrative units. Some are affiliated with syndicates, government ministries, NGOs, or universities. Some are a mixture of the above, and include members of various prior entities.
The most important of these newly formed committees are mixed. Named “structural safety teams” by the Minister of Public Works and Housing, they include members from the governorate branches of the Syrian Engineers’ Syndicate (SES), engineering consultants for the Ministry of Housing’s General Company for Engineering Studies (GCES), and members of the already exist structural safety committees. On February 13, the minister told state-owned newspaper Tishreen on February 13 that these teams are geographically spread out in earthquake-affected areas.
He called on citizens wishing to check on the structural safety of their homes to consult with these teams through their governorate councils.
According to the minister, these teams are working to inventory and assess the damage to all government and residential facilities and provide technical support and engineering advice on structural safety. The minister added that another of the teams’ duties is to present a separate report for each governorate on the scale of damages and any needed recommendations.
The GCES general manager told Tishreen on February 16 that the company had put together a working guide for the structural safety teams, with the goal of rapid initial assessment of structural safety of residential and public buildings affected by the earthquake, as well as their usability. The teams would also submit any necessary forms for collecting data. Consequently, the teams examined hundreds of buildings in Lattakia, Aleppo, Hama, Tartous and Damascus governorates. They evacuated buildings at risk of collapse and identified which structures could be restored.
Meanwhile, some of the new inspection committees were formed in coordination between the SES and the Syria Trust for Development, headed by Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asma al-Assad.
Engineering department teachers at Tishreen University in Lattakia also formed committees to inspect cracked homes at the homeowners’ requests. Al-Baath University in Homs also created its own inspection committees to check on its university buildings and residential units. The Ministry of Education put together committees to inspect school buildings and assess any damage, white various civil initiatives, including volunteer engineers, formed committees to check affected structures.
These newly formed committees are similar to the old ones in that they perform field inspections of buildings in affected areas, determine the status of each building and provide recommendations to administrative units to leave the buildings alone, restore, evacuate or demolish them.
Many people staying in shelters in Aleppo and Lattakia after leaving their cracked homes are still waiting for the committees to visit their houses and assess the risks.
These assessments have short-term impacts on citizens regarding whether they remain in the shelter centres or return to their homes. According to official statements, committees in governorates affected by the earthquake have received tens of thousands of requests to inspect cracked homes.
The committees seal the buildings at risk of collapse while waiting for administrative unit demolition crews to demolish them and sweep away the rubble. Sealing a building involves placing a sign with red wax warning residents not to return home.