Japan Earthquake

The 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami that impacted Japan was both a test and a wake-up call for building design engineers everywhere. Japan is one of the most-prepared countries on the planet to deal with natural events like these. In terms of the earthquake itself, Japan fared pretty well considering the severity of the tremors. 

In a report titled, “The Japan Earthquqake and Tsunami and What They Mean for the U.S.”, by Michael Mahoney, a geophysicist for FEMA’s National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP), the author notes that during the Japanese event, engineered buildings remained upright while older wood residential buildings did experience collapse. In addition, non-structural components (such as piping) did not fare as well and continue to provide challenges during earthquake events.
The Japanese earthquake taught us some lessons, and Mr. Mahoney’s report points out what we’re doing right:
• “The earthquake confirmed the importance of proper building codes and building construction. The adoption and enforcement of an adequate building code is the most effective loss prevention measure that a State or community can do.” Mahoney points out that this is the single most important difference between last year’s earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and the one in Japan.
• “However, building codes only work when the data behind them is current and accurate.” The NEHRP agencies compare the performance of buildings and their components to actual ground motion data from recording instruments so that they can better calibrate building codes and standards. Better knowledge can lead to reduced conservatism in the code, making earthquake-resistant construction more cost-effective. This is why the American Iron and Steel Institute places such great importance on research, and why they are moving ahead on seismic research with teams from Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Texas and Virginia Tech that will result in the next-generation of cold-formed steel seismic design.

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