Engineer Stresses There is No "One-Size-Fits-All" Solution to Preventing, Mitigating Earthquake Damage to Buildings

Release Date: January 26, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Extensive damage to buildings caused by the Northridge earthquake underscores the need for structural or civil engineers to have input on the design and construction of residential and commercial buildings in earthquake-prone areas, according to an engineer who was part of a reconnaissance team that last week inspected damaged buildings in Los Angeles.

Andrei Reinhorn, Ph.D., a professor of civil enginering at the University at Buffalo, noted that just as every earthquake is different, so is each building, and there is no "one-size-fits all solution" when it comes to taking steps to prevent or mitigate earthquake damage.

"Every individual building is a one-time, custom-made project," added Reinhorn, who visited Los Angeles as part of a team dispatched from the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, headquartered at UB.

"It's not like a car or a piece of clothing, where errors can be detected on-line and corrected. Every building and its structural system is unique, as is its performance during each earthquake."

He noted that even retrofitted buildings or those that meet seismic codes can sustain significant damage.

"Some of these buildings failed because they were only retrofitted to a level owners saw as economical," said Reinhorn.

According to Reinhorn, the buildings that suffered most structural damage were residential and commercial buildings that were two- to four-stories high, parking structures and some medium-sized office buildings.

Many of the residential buildings were not "engineered," Reinhorn said, or they were "pre-engineered," meaning a structural or civil engineer was not involved in the final design and construction of these buildings.

Since many other buildings that were not damaged were constructed similarly, these buildings are candidates for major damage in future earthquakes, he added.

"Since every building is unique, only a trained engineer can implement the seismic guidelines which are written for engineers.”

He added: "It is very important that engineers be involved in the design of any structure in seismic areas. It is probably necessary that we look again to the current engineering standards and minimum requirements and see if something must be upgraded there.

"Finally, it seems that many of the structures that were not engineered or were preengineered, or those that were constructed to less stringent standards (before 1975) should be carefully evaluated by structural engineers and solutions of retrofit or upgrading should be recommended. Since each structure is unique, it is necessary to look at each structure individually and understand that there is not a 'one-size-fits-all' solution.'"

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