Shock absorbers

Earthquake-resistant buildings minimise damage as a 6.8 Richter earthquake rocks Seattle

Published: Saturday 31 March 2001

earthquake-resistant building codes came to the rescue of the residents of Seattle and prevented large-scale damage, when an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale struck the city on February 28. The quake was the city's first major test of the building policy, known as seismic retrofitting. "Seattle's regularly-updated building code, including the provisions for seismic retrofitting, limited the extent of the overall damage caused due to the earthquake. This quake was the most powerful one to have rocked the city in the past 50 years," says Kenneth Carper, an architecture professor who teaches seismic design at Washington State University in Pullman.

In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent to remodel schools, buildings and highways to protect against them against earthquakes. Even the city's older sections did not suffer much damage as demand for office space due to a booming economy had led to renovations of old buildings in these areas. Those renovations were based on the code. "Eight recently renovated buildings including a 42-story office high-rise built in 1914, came through the quake virtually unscathed," says William Justen, a former Seattle building official.

"I have been a great believer in seismic upgrades and even more so now because I have seen it work," says Justen. "The primary purpose of retrofitting buildings for earthquake is to prevent loss of life," says John Siu, principal for the city of Seattle. "There were no fatalities in the buildings and that is a success story," Siu says. He claims that Seattle building code was evolved on the basis of similar success stories of California, where buildings, that had been retrofitted prior to devastating quakes in the San Francisco and San Fernando Valley, fared far better than the ones that hadn't.

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