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News: SEAOC News

Structural Engineer’s Guide to Become Leaders in Community Resilience Part 1

Monday, July 27, 2020  

By the SEAOC Resilience Committee
Ron Mayes, Jonathan Buckalew (Co-Chair), Anna Lang, (Co-Chair),
Roy Lobo, Daniel Zepeda and Garrett Hagen



This is the first of six newsletter articles about “earthquake resilience” and how this broad, new design goal is likely to affect structural engineering practice in California. Forthcoming articles will:

1. Introduce the new terms “community resilience” and “functional recovery.”
2. Present the economic benefits of resilient design.
3. Discuss how building rating systems (e.g. USRC, SEAONC, REDi) can help communicate expected downtimes following an earthquake.
4. Summarize tools for resilient design (e.g. FEMA P58, SP3 software).
5. Offer tips for educational outreach to the public, policy makers, and our clients about the role of structural engineers in designing for community resilience.

"Community resilience” has been defined as the ability of a community to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.1 While this concept is applicable for all hazards and includes both buildings and infrastructure, our discussion in this article series will be limited to the seismic performance of buildings only. How structural engineering might contribute to community resilience is unclear from the definition alone since we normally design or retrofit individual buildings, not whole communities, and since our work is guided by safety-based codes, not by planning or recovery objectives.

Yet the emphasis on “recovery” gives us a way in. To achieve community resilience, our building codes must go beyond safety and include a focus on recovery times. In addition to encouraging the adoption of such “resilience” or “functional recovery” building codes, the engineering community can make a direct and more immediate contribution by designing buildings to achieve specific recovery times based on the building’s function, client desires, and expected hazards. We can also apply our expertise to facilitate emergency response and recovery planning.

Consider the experience in Christchurch, New Zealand when they experienced two large earthquakes in the span of six months in 2010-2011. While the building code successfully limited loss of life, it did not facilitate recovering normal functions. Figure 1 shows that it took nearly four years to demolish damaged buildings in the Central Business District because the damage was extensive, the city needed to develop a new plan, and rebuilding was delayed more.