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The earthquake in Westerwijtwerd on 22 May 2019 was felt by a large majority of residents in the municipalities of Loppersum, Hogeland and Groningen. In the immediate aftermath very few people needed acute assistance; however, many would have appreciated better communication about the earthquake and its consequences. People also want damage claims to be processed immediately. These are the conclusions reached by Dr Tom Postmes and Dr Katherine Stroebe of the University of Groningen on the basis of their research commissioned by the National Coordinator Groningen.
Respondents of the Gronings Perspectief panel were approached the day after the earthquake in Westerwijtwerd. A total of 4,803 people completed the questionnaire, the majority of whom did so within one or two days. The results therefore paint a reliable picture of the community’s initial reactions to the earthquake.
Close to the epicentre in Westerwijtwerd (Municipality of Loppersum), the quake was strong. In the Municipality of Loppersum itself, more than half of the inhabitants were awakened by it. Among those residents who were already awake, 85% felt the tremors. In the municipalities of Groningen and Hogeland, about a third of the residents were woken up by the quake. About 70% of the residents who were awake felt the tremor. Residents who felt the earthquake, feel much less safe.
Residents who already had damage to their homes and residents who felt the earthquake, in particular, have needs immediately after the earthquake. A number of things could be organized differently immediately after a quake; for example, there is considerable room for improvement in terms of communication to residents about the quake and the consequences thereof. Residents also want to know what action they can take: how do you recognize damage and how can you report it?
They also want damage to be repaired as soon as it occurs. Residents want an expert to come and take a quick look at whether there is any damage and whether the house is safe. After an earthquake, people also have the need to tell their story and express their feelings. Some villages organized a meeting to facilitate that.
Communication with residents immediately after an earthquake could be much improved. The researchers recommend that the bodies currently involved in safety should agree among themselves on how residents are to be properly and fully informed and to whom residents can turn if they have any questions. The bodies include the Veiligheidsregio (safety region) Groningen, the relevant municipalities, KNMI, the Tijdelijke Commissie Mijnbouwschade Groningen (Temporary Committee on Mining Damage in Groningen) and the Staatstoezicht op de Mijnen (Government Mine Watchdog). It is essential that the residents are not neglected: people want to tell their story and they want to be heard.
The researchers’ second recommendation is to inspect the damage and safety of homes immediately after a tremor. This service is currently only available to people who think that their home is acutely unsafe. It would be beneficial to inspect all the homes of people who are unsure about their physical safety as soon as possible.
Gronings Perspectief is a collaboration between the University of Groningen, the Groningen Municipal Health Service (GGD) and the Groningen Social and Cultural Planning Office. The researchers are assisted by a supervisory committee comprising the relevant municipalities, the local health authority, the Groninger Bodembeweging (a special interests group), the Groninger Gasberaad (a cross-sectoral collective of social organizations), the National Coordinator Groningen, the Province of Groningen, the Veiligheidsregio (safety region) and the Association of Groningen Villages, as well as scientific experts.
Since 2016, a team led by Dr Stroebe and Prof. Postmes has been investigating the health, safety and future prospects of residents of all municipalities in the gas production area, on behalf of the National Coordinator Groningen. A panel of Groningers periodically completes a questionnaire on safety, health and future prospects. The findings of the Gronings Perspectief are published on the website
As of March 1, 2021, Jochem Tolsma has been appointed as professor by special appointment of Social Divisions between Groups in the Department of Sociology at the University of Groningen.
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