A repeat of the '89 quake due soon?
Over the past few months, the world has seemingly been besieged by a series of devastating quakes; Haiti, Chile, Taiwan and Turkey have all been affected, but according to The Architect's Newspaper there is a very high chance that California could be similarly struck.
Speaking to the newspaper, Berkeley Professor and former Architecture Department Chair Mary Comerio said that there is a 99.7 percent chance that California will suffer a 6.7 magnitude or larger earthquake over the next 30 years and as such, the United States should learn from recent lessons and prepare themselves accordingly. After being a disaster-recovery expert in Haiti after the nation’s 7.0 magnitude quake, Comerio was asked whether The Golden State is ready for a major seismic event;
"California is probably the best-prepared place in the world. With that said, we certainly have things to worry about. We have very good building codes, so many of our modern buildings will do fine. But we still have older concrete buildings that are vulnerable.
"Particularly, we happen to have a lot that are built in the 1920s, and again in the 1960s, before the building codes really changed. We also have what are known as “soft-story” buildings—the office and residential buildings that have a big open ground for either parking garages or commercial spaces.
"Those buildings are vulnerable, and we will have damage. It won’t be as dramatic and widespread as something in Haiti, but we will have pockets of very difficult damage. We will have lots of people displaced, depending on the size of the earthquake. We could have higher death rates than we’ve seen depending on the time of day. If either Loma Prieta or Northridge had been a little longer, or, in Northridge’s case, not on holiday at 5:00 a.m., a lot more people might have died."
Sustainable earthquake defence?
Traditionally when you think of earthquake-proof buildings, you think of heavy concrete and steel supports - hardly the most environmentally friendly resources. However, Comerio believes that seismic refits and sustainable building design can work hand in hand.
"There is an important opportunity for working in tandem with the green movement and renovations of existing buildings, " she said.
"Your building isn’t going to be very sustainable if it falls down. If you do this renovation in year one, and in year three it collapses in an earthquake, you haven’t done much for sustainability. Typically, people operate in silos. The architects don’t always talk to the structural engineers; the mechanical engineers kind of live in their own world.
"The green movement helped bring some of those groups together, and the next step is to start to bring some of the seismic safety components into that."
With California the most earthquake prone area of the United States, a destructive seismic event is inevitable but if the state is as prepared as Comerio believes it could be, then the loss of life could be severely reduced.
To read the full interview, click here.
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