Local engineers study Chile's devastating quake

March 1, 2010 7:28:53 PM PST
Bay Area engineers are getting some real-world lessons on earthquake construction, following Chile's devastating quake. The 8.8 monster quake ranks among the top 10 ever recorded. The death toll is now more than 700.

Cynthia Perry is a Berkeley engineer who's been to Chile several times and knows well what the quake-prone country does to protect its structures.

"They have codes. They have actually some more stringent provisions in their codes than we do. Most of the major buildings are built with sheer walls, not with frames," she said.

While the destruction to traditional framed structures was severe in towns near the epicenter of the 8.8 quake, in Santiago, 200 miles from the epicenter, the damage to large commercial buildings was more cosmetic than structural.

Early data shows the motions felt in Santiago were similar to what the Bay Area experienced in 1989 during Loma Prieta. So there's much to learn from this latest major quake.

At Pleasanton's Simpson Strong-Tie, engineers will also study very closely the damage in Chile. They produce steel connectors designed to make framed structures better able to withstand the forces of a major earthquake.

The key is to tie everything together.

"This whole concept of a continuous load path applies to any structure constructed of any material across the world and that is ensuring if your structure is going to subject, whether it's due to an earthquake or a hurricane, that it can be connected well-together at the joints to withstand that natural force," Ricardo Arevalo from Simpson Strong-Tie said.

A complete retrofit of an older home could cost $25,000. A simple job can run as little $1,000 and help keep a house from falling off its foundation in the Bay Area's next big quake.