Seismic Building Codes Save Lives in Chile Earthquake
Everyone saw the pictures from Haiti. There were scenes of death, suffering, and homes and government buildings crumbled like sand castles. In contrast, the earthquake that struck Chile was stronger, but the destruction was not nearly as severe. So why the drastic difference? Chile, unlike Haiti which had not experienced a significant earthquake in a century, was prepared for the worst. Among Chile’s measures was the implementation of strict building codes, which had been strengthened following the biggest earthquake ever recorded, a 9.5 earthquake, in 1960. That earthquake's devastation led Chile to adopt some of the most stringent building codes in that part of the world.
According to the BBC, Chilean building design uses a "strong columns weak beams" approach. This includes steel frame reinforced concrete columns and beams, which are connected to create the floors and the roof. In essence, during an earthquake, the concrete breaks at the ends of the beams dispersing the energy, while the steel reinforcement maintains its structure. This type of design prevents a building from collapsing upon its inhabitants as so tragically occurred in Haiti. For Chili, forethought, experience, and investment have paid off with lives saved.