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A new report charts the path toward a superior earthquake recovery


Over the past century, seismic building laws and practices have focused primarily on saving lives by reducing the likelihood of significant damage or structural collapse. However, restoring the vital functions provided by buildings and infrastructure has received less attention. As a result, many remain vulnerable to being out of service due to an earthquake for months, years, or forever.

A panel of experts, set up by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under congressional oversight, has urged officials at all levels of government to support research and policies that can help get the community of buildings and services dependent on rapid operation After the earthquake. In a report delivered to Congress, the commission outlines seven recommendations that, if acted upon, have dramatically improved the resilience of communities across the country.

“As structural engineers, we feel confident that current building codes can achieve life safety design goals. Now, it’s time to move beyond that and think about restoring the job,” said Siamak Starr, a structural engineer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and co-author of the report.

In 2011, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand. More than 180 people were lost as a result, but many will likely be saved by modern building codes. However, the city’s economy and quality of life did not escape.

The quake damaged the city’s central business district to the point that hundreds of buildings were either closed or demolished, displacing thousands of workers. Lifeline infrastructure systems – including energy, clean water and roads – have been severely damaged, impeding the community’s ability to recover. In total, the estimated costs of rebuilding the city are NZ $ 40 billion ($ 26.6 billion).

The losses caused by the Christchurch earthquake and other devastating events can be partly attributed to the limitations of seismic codes and standards, with most providing little guidance on designing buildings or life lines to recover in time in the aftermath of extreme events.

To prevent major earthquakes from leaving such lasting impressions in the future, Congress has entrusted NIST and FEMA – both agencies of the National Earthquake Risk Reduction Program (NEHRP), which leads NIST – with the responsibility of charting a path to greater community resilience.

Drawing on expertise from both the public and private sectors, NIST and FEMA brought together a panel of more than 30 engineers, architects, building owners, code administrators, and sociologists – including many researchers – to devise options to address gaps in codes, standards and practices, which were made He described it in their report to Congress.

The first recommendation sums up the essence of the report. The authors invite members of government, norms and standards, and industry institutions to work together in developing a national framework for setting and achieving targets based on recovery time. To produce this framework, experts must first determine the level of function provided by the buildings and the lifeline that must be maintained after an earthquake, then determine an acceptable time for them to be out of service.

“There are different metrics we can use to help guide this framework. For example, a building may need to recover within a predetermined number of days, weeks, or months. If it is a hospital or emergency center, you may not want that,” said Steve McCabe, Director NEHRP.

The authors also highlight the need for new recovery-based design standards for buildings and lifeline. If developed with recovery in mind, these standards can guide design criteria – such as increasing the school’s structural strength to reduce damage or designing an electrical power source for faster return to service – toward improving community resilience. A critical stage in this process will be determining the level of ground vibration for which designs must be tailored for recovery objectives, which may vary by region.

Other recommendations seek to help leaders achieve recovery goals aligned with the first recommendation, providing guidance on implementing new building design requirements and a lifeline. It also provides guidance for pre-disaster planning – an essential step in preparing authorities to make timely decisions in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

The authors also seek to empower communities by recommending the launch of an educational campaign on earthquake risk and recovery, which can reach audiences through social media, broadcast services, or other media.

“Well-informed citizens are an important resource needed to develop the kind of vision required for this effort, which may represent the largest change in building codes in 75 years,” McCabe said.

In the report, the authors encourage responsible consideration of adopting functional recovery methods that go beyond current requirements. They contend that initial investments to adopt new codes focused on recovery and upgrading of old buildings and a lifeline could potentially be matched by reduced future losses. They also suggest that increasing access to financial resources through mechanisms such as grant programs, incentive systems, and public financing would help local governments increase upfront costs.

“The immediate goal of the report is to initiate a national dialogue on developing a consensus on goals and timelines for recovery. This approach may eventually be reflected in building codes, but first, a great deal of research needs to be addressed,” Abdul Sattar said.

New policies can benefit from NEHRP agencies, such as NIST and FEMA, whose expertise may enable them to provide the science needed for sound public policy.

The road to this goal may take years, but it is critical.

In the meantime, the authors encourage early action by leaders at the state and local levels, as each community may have needs that national guidelines cannot fully address. Their experiences in functional recovery planning and design can also provide valuable feedback nationally, accelerating progress towards large-scale earthquake resistance that maintains quality of life as well as life itself.


Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! Is not responsible for the accuracy of the newsletters sent to EurekAlert! Through contributing institutions or to use any information through the EurekAlert system.


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