This past Saturday, the world awoke to yet another horrific natural disaster, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake right off the coast of Chile near Concepcion. It’s only been 2 days since the deadly quake and the death toll has already risen to over 700. However in comparison, the Haiti earthquake (which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale) was 500 times less powerful than the one last Saturday but over 250,000 people were killed. Based on magnitude alone, the death toll from Chile should be much higher and the devastation much more complete – but that’s not the case. Chile can thank foresight and smart planning for that, and its situation is a testament to what a huge life-or-death difference smart building codes and well designed architecture can make.
Chile has been decimated by earthquakes before. In fact, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded was a 9.5 in 1960 in close proximity to the epicenter of Saturday’s quake. Since Chile has seen its fair share of earthquakes it has worked hard to prepare and protect against others. The country’s building codes, are recognized as some of the best in the world, and the country has implemented many quake-resistant building techniques to stem future disasters. Since the 1960′s, seismic codes have been enforced for all new construction based on what they call the “strong columns weak beam” system. As BBC describes it:
“The idea is that buildings are held up by reinforced concrete columns, which are strengthened by a steel frame. Reinforced concrete beams are joined onto the columns to make floors and the roof. If there is an earthquake, the idea is that the concrete on the beams should break near the end, which dissipates a lot of the energy of the earthquake, but that the steel reinforcement should survive and the columns should stay standing, which means the building will stay upright.”