Haiti needs seismic-resistant buildings

By: Siobhan Wagner - www.theengineer.co.uk

Jan 14, 2010

The massive 7.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday could have resulted in less fatalities and destruction with better-engineered buildings and structures.

This is the argument of seismology engineer Sarada Sarma of Imperial College London’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

‘The only way to avoid death and destruction in big earthquakes is to build structures with proper seismic-resistant design,’ he said.

According to the Red Cross, thousands have been killed as a result of the earthquake, which hit the capital Port-au-Prince and other areas of the country.

The quake, which is the worst to strike the island in more than 200 years, wrecked and demolished numerous buildings, including the presidential palace and the UN headquarters.

Sarma said that most of these buildings were ‘un-engineered’ designs based mostly on reinforced concrete.

‘In such a poor country, they really should not go for un-engineered designs,’ he said. ‘Instead of reinforced concrete, they should use timbers for beams and columns and joints. While they would not last long, they will withstand earthquakes.’

Yet Sarma warned that those involved in the rebuilding of buildings and structures in Haiti should not consider over-engineering designs to withstand bigger earthquakes because it will end up being too costly.

‘They need to try and build them in a way so that they become failsafe,’ he said. ‘So the structure will fail after an earthquake, but it will fail in a safe way that does not end lives.'

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