Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about the devastation from the earthquake in Haiti, seeing images of collapsed buildings and dead people on the news and in the newspapers. I wonder why less than a hundred people in the Bay Area died in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and perhaps as many as 200,000 have died from the earthquake last month in Haiti. The Transamerica Building in downtown San Francisco swayed about one foot at the top during the Loma Prieta earthquake, but the building was not damaged. We’ve all seen pictures of what happened to Haiti’s Presidential Palace in Port au Prince.
I did an Internet search and discovered the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) at Cal Berkeley. PEER is an interdisciplinary organization that studies the effect of earthquakes on structures and how to build safe structures in earthquake zones. PEER asked a structural engineer, Eduardo Fierro, P.E., of Bfp Engineers in Berkeley, to travel to Haiti and make a preliminary report on the damage there. This is Fierro’s two-hour presentation at Cal Berkeley from the PEER Web site. Fierro knows his stuff when it comes to structures, but in the video he shows that, for him, it is a matter of the heart as well as the head.
I am not a structural engineer, but I remember enough from my mechanical engineering courses to understand the basics of building in an earthquake zone, and the PEER video was like a two-hour refresher course.