How long will it still take to strengthen people’s homes? This was one of the audience questions at the Home Safety congress organized by Platform Bouwen en Versterken and Platform Leefbaar en Kansrijk, two platforms that focus on earthquake issues in Groningen. The congress was an opportunity to exchange knowledge on the Groningen earthquake dossier, and the particular focus was on quality of life and technology. Theodor Kockelkoren, the inspector general of State Supervision of Mines (SODM), the independent regulatory body for mining activities in the Netherlands, gave the opening speech and immediately faced critical questions from a concerned audience.
Kockelkoren spoke about the relationship between knowledge and risks: about how knowledge influences how we view risks, and how new knowledge can reduce risks, but can never eradicate them. He was unable to answer the question about how much longer it will take to strengthen houses in the affected area, but he did note that it probably will not be possible to have everything strengthened before 2021. This may mean that the lower safety standards will remain in place for longer. Kockelkoren doesn’t believe it will be possible to complete the strengthening operation within seven years.
Kockelkoren envisages a greater role for municipalities to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Municipalities that aren’t held back by procedures and can act on the basis of ‘common sense’ should be able to help residents and increase the quality of life in their area. There was some resistance to such a role in the room, however. Municipalities are often caught up in administrative red tape and often start projects that do nothing for individuals. ‘I don’t need a bench in the park: I just want to be helped’, said one member of the audience.
The same conclusion was reached during the talk by the Municipal Health Service (GGD) on the impact of gas extraction on people’s mental health. Gas extraction obviously has a negative and significant impact, although it can in some instances also lead to greater neighbourhood cohesion. The joint UG/GGD
talk was part of a varied evening programme with presentations on topics such as heritage and quality of life, the Groningen safety region and the effects of mining. Throughout the evening people could be heard praising the clear overview and asking if the figures were public and where they could find the graphs. There is a clear need for information, clear images, graphics and comprehensible explanations in particular.
The speaker on safety legislation made good use of images to illustrate how damaged houses are prioritized and which method is used to strengthen them. The basic premise was that houses at the p50 median that pose an immediate safety risk serve as an example of how to strengthen the houses around the p90 median that fall within the wider safety margins. The sheer number of houses that have suffered damage was illustrated with a pile of Lego bricks. This varied mix can be sorted by colour or shape, for instance; likewise, houses can be sorted by type of damage or ground. This may make it possible to strengthen similar types of housing in similar ways.
Throughout the congress, metaphors and imagery were often used to make complex material easier to understand and thus gain more of a grip on the back end of the problems: knowledge about them. It proved impossible to unravel the tangled web of themes: they were so wide ranging that it was asking too much to find a common one. Congress chair and acting mayor of Oldambt, Rika Pot, gave various participants the opportunity to disentangle their theme from the tangled web. Togetherness was mentioned, neighbourhood cohesion, keeping the dialogue open and a love of Groningen: loose ends, but who knows what may happen if they are tied up? Perhaps the best description of the aim of both platforms is to move from tangled web to beacon of knowledge. The congress certainly marked the first step in this journey.
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