Hong Kong may not be as prone to earthquakes as Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and other less seismically stable locations, but that is no reason for complacency. We need to be prepared, to the best of our ability, for whatever nature sends our way, no matter how safe we may perceive ourselves to be. Nature does not live by our rules, after all; rather, our society is shaped around the constraints of our environment. Being in a typhoon zone, the government has made sure that buildings are constructed to withstand strong winds. Slopes have been reinforced where necessary and drainage systems built to cope with sudden high volumes of water. Occasionally, as residents of flood-prone areas can attest, the measures need strengthening and modification. Quakes are a less frequent occurrence in Hong Kong than typhoons and heavy rain. On average, earthquakes are felt by residents twice a year, although Thursday night's was the first generally noticeable tremor since 2004. Rarely do quakes recorded here have an intensity sufficient to cause major damage. The last was 88 years ago and since then, the only casualties from the occasional temblors have been broken crockery and jangled nerves. Earthquake risk studies carried out by the Geotechnical Engineering Office classify the seismicity of Hong Kong and adjoining Guangdong province as 'low to moderate'. As a result, the government does not require contractors to construct buildings capable of withstanding strong earthquakes. This may benefit both builders and buyers because the cost of using different construction materials and techniques would obviously increase costs. But from a safety standpoint in a city where high-rise living is the norm, it is short-sighted. Nature is, after all, notoriously fickle; those who suffered as a result of the December 26, 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean can readily attest to the consequences of being unprepared for the unlikely, as can the residents of the US city of New Orleans, which was inundated by Hurricane Katrina's storm surges little more than a year ago. An even more pertinent lesson for Hong Kong is the earthquake that struck the eastern Australian city of Newcastle in 1989, killing 13 people, injuring 150 others and causing extensive damage to 35,000 homes and 3,000 other buildings. The disaster was the first of its kind recorded in Australia and showed that a lethal earthquake could occur in parts of the country that had been considered to be of low seismic risk. Authorities immediately put in place improved building codes and practices, and more closely monitored seismic activity - measures that our government should also be implementing. Thursday's quake is a wake-up call that brings apt meaning to the adage, 'better safe than sorry'.