Feb 27, 2011

Earthquake resistant building

Just recently Christchurch (NZ) suffered damage and casualties as a result of an earthquake. Planners in India and elsewhere should sit up and take notice. Not at the size of the death toll, which is tragic even it if is only one, but at the fact that it is really low for a quake that is considered a 'bulls-eye' - shallow, right next to a big city and 6.3 magnitude. Some buildings collapsed, yes, but aerial picture of Christchurch shows most modern buildings standing unaffected, its occupants shielded by technology and adherence to law.

It is anybody's guess how many a quake of this sort would kill, if it were to  strike a populated city in the Indian Himalayan region (or even Delhi which is vulnerable). The numbers would be too high, perhaps in the tens of thousands. And experts have been warning for years that a big one is overdue.

Reason? Total disregard of building codes even by those with money (leaving aside those that cannot afford it) and ignorance. The Ahmedabad quake showed when even costly condominiums are constructed shoddily.

I had to request and even insist my builder to use concrete columns instead of plain brick work over foundation (which is what 99% of home builders do in my city) and to use good quality steel not the remelted scrap that passes for steel in parts of India.

Look at this building under construction in Taiwan - the shell is thick steel, not the kind of wiry rods we tend to use in India (and elsewhere). The concrete comes later. Look at the closeup shot of the steel - it is so thick and riveted together strongly. I am no civil engineer but something tells me this will take a massive quake and barely budge.

While it will take decades for India to have the sort of living standards and afford-ability that goes with a developed economy, there are many things we can do right now to save lives. There is a lot of low hanging fruit..

Experts should highlight many aspects of quake resistant design that is not costly and can be adopted by middle class or lower middle class home builders. For many it is simply a question of not knowing enough, not a question of cost, even it were to increase building costs by 20-30% or so. After all, many willingly spend hundreds of thousands on toilet fixtures, marble flooring, granite facades, kitchen cabinets and LCD televisions.

Big builders who sell flats for high price should be penalised if they construct shoddily or use unsafe practices. Engineers and owners should be jailed or fined substantial amounts that discourage non compliance.

Academics and intellectuals, who in India most often focus on how to turn kids into future recruits for the communist party should instead impart safety knowledge (including road safety, earthquake preparedness, infectious disease control etc) as part of school curriculum and formal training.

All this takes will..

Or we simply multiply the 200+ of Christchurch by a thousand or more...

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