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Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes

Discussion in 'Residential Seismic' started by mark handler, Mar 12, 2011.

  1. mark handler

    mark handler Sawhorse

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    by Josh Rosenau

    My heart goes out to all the people affected the earthquake in Japan, and by the resulting tsunamis which have hit much of the Pacific basin. Heck, we even saw tsunami surge in the San Francisco Bay. The damage and deaths are still being tallied, but it's worth noting that the 5th largest earthquake on record hit near the densely populated coast of Japan, and so far there are a mere 400 deaths reported. The earthquake in Haiti last year, which was 100 times weaker, killed 230,000.

    The charts here, borrowed from the USGS, show projected fatalities (above) and economic damage (below) from the earthquake. Below, a table showing how many people are likely to experience various intensities of earthquake damage. Over 2 million people felt severe shaking, shaking harsh enough to cause "moderate/heavy" damage to earthquake resistant structures, and heavy damage to vulnerable structures. Japanese building codes are stringent, and engineering standards are high.

    It's remarkable how, even in photographs of coastal areas near the epicenter, areas hit by earthquake and tsunami at their harshest, many buildings are still standing.

    The difference is that Japan has made a commitment to earthquake-safe buildings, and had the money to carry out that commitment. Haiti lacked the money to implement strict construction standards and a government capable of compelling compliance. Builders and government regulators in the United States have the power and the resources to ensure Japanese standards of construction apply here, but my sense from living in California for 3 years is that we may lack the commitment needed to do this.

    And it's a shame, because we desperately need to upgrade our bridges anyway. Fully a quarter of bridges on public roads are either "structurally deficient" ("significant load-carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition due to deterioration and/or damage") or "functionally obsolete" (not up to code or operating with more traffic than design specifications planned for). Some of those bridges were designed and built as part of the Keynesian stimulus of the 1930s, and it's well past time for them to be replaced. One in five are older than 50 years old, and another one in five is at least 40 years old. Repairing, retrofitting, and replacing inadequate and unsafe bridges would cost $140 billion, a pittance relative to the damage which we will face as those bridges collapse spontaneously, or fall during earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, and other natural disasters. The San Francisco Bay Bridge is undergoing a seismic retrofit, but other bridges need attention too.

    Not only would this make America safer, it would also inject money into the national economy, creating jobs on a massive scale. Given the persistent unemployment we face, that's nothing to sneeze at. And our roads are not all that needs work. Retrofitting buildings for earthquake safety and energy efficiency is vital for public safety and in order to mitigate climate change and control energy costs. A system of direct grants for states to use in bridge construction and low interest loans and grants for private contractors could provide a massive stimulus, jumpstart the green jobs market which should be booming but is awaiting supportive government policies, and put American workers back on the job.

    "But Josh," I hear you thinking, "we haven't got a spare $140 billion for the bridges, let alone the money for building retrofits." Indeed, the focus in Congress right now is on cutting government spending, a goal shared by state legislatures. And that's a problem, because government spending, especially job-creating spending like I'm talking about here, is exactly what we need to get out of this economic crisis. And borrowing to build and repair infrastructure is probably the smartest sort of borrowing we could do. It's what most people and businesses do when they buy a home or an office or a factory. It makes sense, because the benefit of the purchase will persist for years to come, and it makes sense to spread the cost of the purchase across the time while it serves its purpose. If I'm to pass a debt on to my grandchildren, I'd like to also let them see what that money bought. I'd be proud to tell my grandkids that they're helping pay for the bridge we're driving across decades from now, and I'd hope they'll be proud of such things, too.

    None of this is rocket surgery. For many of these bridges and buildings, plans for the retrofit and repairs may already be sitting in an architect's drawer, and environmental review may have already been completed. All it takes is money, and I can't be the only person out there who thinks this would be a great investment. Look how well it worked for Japan.

    http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2011/03/millions_saved_in_japan_by_goo.php
     
  2. GHRoberts

    GHRoberts Silver Member

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    As you said it takes MONEY. We don't have money. Well some of us do, but the majority do not.

    The reality of the situation is that (for the most part) people are not forced to live in dangerous places. They chose to. Let them live and work in the structures that chose to live in. There is nothing stopping people from building disaster resistant structures.

    Are your home and workplace disaster resistant (and code complaint)? If not improve your lot first.
     
  3. TJacobs

    TJacobs Sawhorse

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    The trouble is that we have already maxed out the fiscal credit card for a lot of other feel-good crap, so much so that we do not have the ability to pay any of it back much less any new stuff no matter how noble the cause.
     
  4. fatboy

    fatboy Administrator

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    After watching two ballot measures to increase our sales tax by .75 to fund road maintenance, which we are about ten years behind, the last two elections they went down in flames. Good luck with getting the citizens behind any funding for improvements.
     
  5. GHRoberts

    GHRoberts Silver Member

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    What does the government have to do with commercial or residential construction? (I am taking about the economics of building for risks not the adopting of codes)

    Any builder in an earthquake zone can build to the Japanese codes or above them. If that is a good economic decision, the builder, building's owner, and tenants will all profit.
     
  6. Mark K

    Mark K Platinum Member

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    The statement "If not improve your lot first" is an excuse to deny the need to do anything. Just because somebody else is ignoring the fire regulations should you do the same?

    The focus of the current codes is on life safety and not economic loss but if the existing codes were complied with the economic losses would be much less.

    A good econimic decision for whom? The decision to design to reduce economic losses due to earthquakes is made by the original developer of the project. The reality is that unless the developer is enlightened and plans to keep the building they have no economic motivation to do so.

    The government has an interest in economic loss of commercial and residential construction in earthquakes because if the damage is extensive it will make it hard to respond to the disaster and the economic loss will depress the local economy. Look at what happened in St Louis. If you are in the middle of nowhere I would support your decision to make stupid choices but it you are in a dense urban environment we must consider the impact on the community. Strict enforcement of existing earthquake regulations would reduce much of the loss and may be a good overal balance between individual rights and government involvement.
     
  7. Rio

    Rio Silver Member

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    In regard to California all of the freeway bridges have been being reinforced for the last 9 years or so, since either one of the larger earthquakes here or maybe it was since the Kobe quake. When one drives on the freeways one can see on the older bridge supports that the concrete has been sheathed in steel. One can only do so much until the cost gets prohibitive. Considering the size of this earthquake that just hit Japan it's amazing that more damage wasn't done.
     
  8. conarb

    conarb Sawhorse

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    Rio:

    For the most part they have done a wonderful job, albeit, at great cost. Stanford dismantled all of the sandstone in their original sandstone buildings, set them all around numbered on the backs with white paint numbering symbols so they knew where each piece went back, reinforced everything and you can't tell the difference. I took several pictures and stitched them together in a panorama when they were done (be prepared to scroll if you click on it).

    [​IMG]
     
    #8 conarb, Mar 13, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2011
  9. dhengr

    dhengr Bronze Member

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    Rio.... Most of the Calif. bridges in the Northridge event, failed because their columns and piers failed. And/or in failing, the lateral motion up at the cross beams was so great that the deck beams and slabs literally walked off the cross beams and fell to the ground. Think in terms of the large mass of the deck beams and slab at a high elevation, being supported by relatively slender columns which flex in one direction at the found. and in the opposite direction up at the deck causing very large bending moments in the columns near the ground level and just under the cross beams. This causes the conc. to crack and crush in these high moment regions, during this violent movement. The conc. crushing and falling away exposes the vert. rebars which can now buckle, reducing the column strength and exposing the interior conc. to further cracking, crushing and falling away. Finally the rebar looks like pretzels and a hinge forms at these high moment locations.

    The column reinforcing effort you are seeing is most likely due to the idea that if we can confine the conc. on the exterior by something fairly elastic, either a steel jacket or by wrapping them with fiber reinf. composites we can significantly alter the way these columns react in an earthquate event and prevent the drastic failures of existing structures. Newer structures are designed and detailed differently because of what we’ve learned from the likes of Northridge and Kobe.

    Conarb.... The Stanford sandstone bldgs. are wonderful old arch and compression structures. They take gravity load very well and are heavy enough to survive lateral loads like wind and low magnitude EQs. But the violent lateral and vertical action caused by EQs causes tension in these structures which they are not able to withstand. It just shakes them apart. This is what we see in third world countries where much of the construction is brittle, unreinforced brick or conc. and conc. masonry which can’t take the tension either. At Stanford they built an EQ resistant structure behind and then reinstalled the sandstone blocks and tied them back to this new structure, so that they won’t just fall apart. They will still move quite a bit in an EQ.

    I believe you told me that your engineer showed you an animation of the house you are working on subjected to a design EQ, it can get pretty violent. And, it can really get crazy structurally when no two parts of the framing line up or are orthogonal to each other, so there is some symmetry. Varying roof planes and wall planes really mess up the works too, and I suspect you saw some of that in the animation. Actually, run-of-the-mill houses fare pretty well, you bend a lot of nails, crack a bunch of plaster and stucco, but absorb a lot of energy in that process and usually don’t harm tenants and can repair the damage.
     
  10. GHRoberts

    GHRoberts Silver Member

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    I guess we want to place responsibility in different places.

    You would prefer that the government take responsibility for enforcing building standards and for the consequences. I would prefer that we individually take on those responsibilities. At different times in our history one side or the other was right.
     
    #10 GHRoberts, Mar 14, 2011
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 14, 2011

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