Designing Earthquake Safe Buildings and Structures

Buildings and structures are susceptible to the ravaging devastation of earthquakes. Great amounts of research have been performed to determine what types of buildings and structures are able to withstand an earthquake and how structural engineers can design earthquake-safe buildings and structures for the future.

Flexibility is Key

One of the most important physical traits of earthquake safe buildings and structures is flexibility. A rigid structure will crumble and collapse during the movement caused by an earthquake. Taller structures are inherently more flexible than two or three story buildings and structures. Shorter buildings and structures require greater amounts of reinforcement to withstand the forces of an earthquake.

Materials Matter

The construction materials used in buildings and structures can significantly help reduce the amount of damage caused during an earthquake. Wood and steel have greater flexibility than stucco, unreinforced concrete, or masonry.

Earthquake Reinforcement

Buildings and structures can be created with additional strategically placed beams that help transfer the energy of the sway of the building during a quake to the base of the structure and the surrounding earth.  Reinforced beams and trusses can also help prevent warping and collapse of buildings and structures during and after an earthquake.

Earthquake-Proof Foundations

Specially designed foundations for buildings and structures can also help limit damage. Foundational plates can be layered to allow for a sliding movement during a quake, providing a stable base for the structure throughout the movement. Another type of foundational alteration is the addition of flexible cushions in the foundation. These flexible cushions absorb movement and energy during an earthquake allowing the structure to remain intact.

Soil Types Can Limit Damage

Softer soils and surrounding earth that contains a high amount of moisture are more prone to induce greater amounts of structural damage during an earthquake. This is partly due to the properties of resonance as energy passes through the soil during the shocks of the quake. Providing additional solid breaks in the soil surrounding the foundation and building on solid earth, such as bedrock, greatly reduces the likelihood of large amounts of damage to structures and buildings.

Saving Lives with Planned Failure

Some structures and buildings are designed to fail in a certain way in the event of an earthquake. These planned failings allow for protection of interior spaces where people are likely to be located. The structures are also designed to limit the amount of rubble and debris that is deposited around the foundation of the structure to keep from damaging nearby buildings.

As advances in structural engineering are made and new construction materials emerge, earthquake-safe buildings and structures may soon be a reality.

May 12, 2008

Designing Earthquake Safe Buildings and Structures