Lesson from Taiwan: Structures only as Safe as the Retrofit Engineering Behind Them

Lesson from Taiwan: Structures only as Safe as the Retrofit Engineering Behind Them

By |2018-02-20T23:06:39+00:00February 20th, 2018|Earthquake Protection, Earthquake Retrofits, seismic retrofit safety|

Most survivors of the damage from last month’s 6.4-magnitude quake in Taiwan were in the upper floors of the buildings that tilted and caved in with lethal results.

Throughout the days following the Feb. 6 temblor, hundreds of people climbed out of toppled buildings – making their way to the outside through windows, balconies and other escape routes. The top floors of the buildings were intact, but had suffered severe shaking – with survivors describing how everything fell from one side of a room to another as the structure shifted violently.

“In my room, all my furniture had been moved into one place – all of it – it was in one place then moved to another. The whole room was tilted about 45 degrees, and at an angle of 45 degrees I almost couldn’t move from one place to another,” Chang Te-chuan, 77, told Voice of America.

When his fourth-floor apartment suddenly dipped to near-street-level outside as the building tilted, Chang grabbed a flashlight and got a firefighter’s help to exit through a window, the news service said.

Hualien City, Taiwan, provides us with yet another example of how good engineering – and bad – are determining factors on whether a person will survive or perish in a quake.

Engineering for both new and existing structures relies on hard data and analysis. Mathematics and fact.

A thorough and precise engineering study done prior to a retrofit will identify the most effective way to fortify a building. It can also plan for optimization of the project by preserving valuable parking spaces and lessening the impacts to tenants.

  • Engineering studies are designed to meet the requirements of a building code as specified in an ordinance
  • They pinpoint the precise scope of work to be done so apartment owners can use that information to get multiple bids on a project that is mathematically and technically verified to work
  • Well-prepared engineering studies avoid permitting delays and/or the need for costly revisions later on
  • Doing the job right helps to reduce liabilities, should something go wrong

The first step in completing a thorough engineering study is to create what is called “as-built” drawings of the structure. These illustrations indicate all details of the building. Everything from the spacing between the windows to the locations of the walls and columns are factored into the design of the project.

The benefits of a detailed and complete engineering plan are clear:

  • Proper engineering optimizes the cost of a retrofit
  • It minimizes the disturbance to the building occupants
  • And it provides better performance with a retrofit that follows its plan

The State Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists maintains a database of the names of individuals with professional licenses with the state. Visit www.bpelsg.ca.gov for more information. If the name you’re searching for isn’t there, call 1-866-780-5370 to make sure the omission is not due to a clerical error.

Finally, make sure the engineering firm you choose has sufficient experience in retrofits that reflect the building type of your property. Contact multiple references on the company’s performance and verify that the firm completed at least three projects similar to yours in the past year. It’s best to find a company that offers in-house engineering, steel fabrication and construction. This will ensure a seamless transition through every step in the process.

A successful earthquake retrofit requires quality engineering, steel fabrication and construction. But a tenant-friendly attitude, adaptability to the needs of the people who live and work in the building, and adherence to a tenant habitability plan are other essentials that can make your retrofit a successful experience.

Start yours with an engineering study. Earthquake retrofits are only as solid as the research and data behind them. Make sure yours is done right.

About the Author:

Ali Sahabi
Ali Sahabi has been a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC) since 1993, and is a principal at Optimum Seismic, Inc. He has completed hundreds of seismic retrofitting and adaptive reuse projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.

Leave A Comment