Retrofitting Highways is A Race Against Time, Earthquake Engineer Says

Release Date: January 19, 1994 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Time ran out Monday for efforts to retrofit some of Southern California's busiest highways, according to a leading expert on how bridges and other structures perform during earthquakes and how damage can be mitigated.

"Retrofitting the volume of bridges in the CALTRANS system is a battle against the clock," said Ian Buckle, Ph.D., deputy director of the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER) at the University at Buffalo and UB professor of civil engineering.

"Unfortunately, in southern California, the clock ran out Monday at 4:31 a.m."

According to Buckle, until engineers have a chance to see earthquake records and structural details, it will be difficult to say whether or not existing technologies could have prevented the collapse of the Santa Monica Freeway.

Still, Buckle emphasized that seismic codes prevented much more serious damage from occurring.

"The fact that we are not talking about a large number of collapses and casualties is testimony to the fact that seismic codes do have an impact," he said.

"There are probably more than 2,000 bridges in the epicentral region, yet we have only heard about 10 or so that collapsed. Seismic codes definitely make a difference."

Buckle added that he was not surprised by the amount of damage that occurred.

"This is the type of localized damage that we would expect from a moderate earthquake in a densely populated area," he said. "As a result, policymakers need to accelerate the rate at which existing buildings, bridges and pipelines are retrofitted. And research centers like NCEER need to give priority to develop cost-effective retrofit techniques to reduce the financial burden that homeowners, taxpayers and building owners must currently bear with a seismic upgrade."

An NCEER-sponsored reconnaissance team composed of engineers in California and Nevada is doing initial assessments of damage and filing a preliminary report. Other NCEER investigators, including Andrei Reinhorn, Ph.D., civil engineering professor at UB, have been sent to Los Angeles to examine damage to unreinforced masonry and concrete buildings.

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