Earthquake Resistance Technology

Earthquake Resistance Technology

It is hard to stand up against the forces of nature, but as the world becomes more populated, more people are settling in areas prone to natural disasters. As a result, technology is being quickly developed to protect residents and so that life can continue to prosper, and people can relax a little more when living in the shadow and an impending catastrophe.

One of the most unpredictable events to detect in advance is an earthquake, and history has taught us that they can be cataclysmic to infrastructure and even, occasionally, fatal. All over the world, humans in places such as Japan, New Zealand, and anywhere else on a tectonic divide are living in earthquake prone areas and have had to find ways to protect themselves. While the obvious move would be to pack up and to move away, there are often large benefits to tolerating the risk; including land fertility, business opportunities, and just the fact that they call their earthquake riddled country home.

Research is underway to try and predict when earthquakes are going to strike, but currently it is only possible to see signs of a strike minutes before it happens, giving a very short time frame to react. These early warning systems are in place in countries such as Mexico, Japan and the USA where, currently, in California, the most developed system named ShakeAlert is in use. This is accomplished by detecting P waves which are non-destructive seismic waves that travel faster that the destructive S waves that cause earthquakes. A warning is then sent out via the mobile phone network to tell people to evacuate buildings and to prepare, which currently gives residents a potential five to thirty seconds advance alert, which may not sound like much, but every second can count when escaping a collapsing building, and every single life is spared from every single additional second of warning is an improvement on the losses that would have occurred without the system in place.

Predicting an earthquake is one way to reduce the chances of fatality, but measures can also be taken to create more resistant buildings and to improve the safety ratings of already existing buildings. This is frequently achieved through two different methods. The first involves creating buildings that are designed to deform and flex without breaking. Certain elements of the buildings are designed to bend or crack to protect more fragile elements. The second method is absorption of the shock waves using dampeners which reduce the energy of the destructive seismic waves to the vital structural elements of the building. The idea is not necessarily to protect the building, but to protect the people inside, so if the building suffers a large amount of damage and has to be destroyed, yet all the inhabitants inside escaped without harm, it is still considered a success.

San Francisco’s newest hospital has adapted a Japanese method of dampening which has never been used before in the US. Throughout the skeletal structure of the building, a goo-like substance the consistency of chewing gum called polyisobutylene has been pumped into panels with steel dividers inside. This slows down the violent shaking and also ensures that the structure comes to a rest sooner after the earthquake strikes. It also reduces the need for diagonal braces which can be obstructive when installing windows and doors.

There is always going to be room to improve more. As the population of the world increases, and, especially in restricted spaces such as San Francisco’s downtown area, the buildings get taller to cope with the increased number of people, the more they are going to move during seismic activity. There is also a big struggle involving cost, as adopting seismic isolation bases and foundations is extremely expensive in comparison to using standard foundations. While new technology is constantly under development to both predict, warn, and protect people from natural disasters, the unpredictable nature of earthquakes is a hurdle we are still struggling to overcome. It may be a tough problem, but the price of ignoring it is too high to ignore.