October 23, 2013
Post-disaster safety and assessment discussed at conference
A structural engineer from Washington State is providing architects in B.C. with a unique opportunity to learn about post-disaster safety procedures and to develop the skills to assess damaged buildings for occupancy following a major disaster.
“In the United States, New Zealand, Japan and other countries around the world, there is a volunteer network that sends experts to help after a natural disaster,” said David Swanson, a principal and the director of structural engineering at Everett, Washington-based Reid Middleton Inc.
“The class I am teaching is on that program.”
The Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) and the American Institute of Architecture –Northwest & Pacific Region are holding their first joint conference in Vancouver between Oct. 23 and Oct. 26.
The delegates at the 2013 conference are being invited to attend a range of continuing education courses, which includes a one-day session on post-disaster response planning on Oct. 23.
The course is being taught by Swanson, who said local building officials must provide a certificate of occupation in the aftermath of a disaster.
However, local governments don’t employ enough trained people to undertake this task.
For example, Swanson said a major earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area of California in October, 1989, which damaged about 150,000 buildings.
The city employed about 45 people, who were qualified to do building inspections.
One of the most important first steps to recovery after an earthquake, windstorm or flood is the assessment of damage to buildings, bridges and critical urban infrastructure.
People need to know as quickly as possible, whether or not it is safe to return to their damaged homes, offices and public spaces.
In response, the Safety Assessment Program (SAP) in the United States helps local governments and building officials evaluate the safety of their built environment after a disaster.
This is achieved by providing trained volunteers with professional experience as architects, engineers, certified building inspectors and contractors.
The SAP program provides evaluators, who survey damaged facilities to determine if there are safety hazards, as well as co-ordinators who are local government representatives responsible for overseeing the program.
“What is interesting about post-disaster training is you hope you will never have to use it, but it is amazing how many people end up using that kind of stuff,” said Michael Ernest, executive director of the AIBC.
“If you go into this area with good intentions, good things will happen, so there is an inevitable influx of students and architects into this area. The more you know about what works and doesn’t work after a disaster, the more effective you are”
The SAP has not been formally introduced in Canada.
Swanson said another problem addressed by the course is when to leave a building after an earthquake.
The standard procedure is to hang on until the shaking stops and then leave the building.
However, there are certain classes of building that local governments don’t want to evacuate, such as hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
In response to this problem, Reid Middleton Inc. has developed a Rapid Evaluation and Assessment Program, which combines proven seismic sensor technology with a customized building assessment portfolio.
The technology allows building managers to determine whether or not their buildings are structurally stable after an earthquake.
Swanson uses training examples of damaged buildings from major earthquakes in California, Washington, Chile, Haiti, China, Japan, Taiwan, and New Zealand.
In addition, he uses examples of hurricane and tsunami damaged buildings from New Jersey, New York, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Chile, and Japan.
As a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Swanson participates as a structural engineer evaluating collapsed buildings for urban search and rescue operations.
He has organized and led Structural Engineers Association of Washington Earthquake Reconnaissance Teams to research lessons learned from devastating earthquakes in Japan (1995), Taiwan (1999), China (2008), Chile (2010), Haiti (2010), New Zealand (2011), and recently, the 2011 Great East Japan (Tohuku) Earthquake.
His course supports the overall theme of the conference, Sea Change: Architecture on the Crest, which focuses on the relationship between architecture and the dynamic forces that are driving change in communities and shaping the future of the planet.
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