A recall of the initial structural engineering process following an earthquake

A recall of the initial structural engineering process following an earthquake

At 5.03pm on Sunday 21st July 2013, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck Wellington. Media reports indicated widespread cracking and  some  significant damage. The next day,  Monday  22nd, four Harrison Grierson Auckland engineers flew to Wellington to provide additional support to our Wellington structural team. The aim was to assess around 40 buildings for earthquake damage.

The process:

Each inspection began with a site walkover to determine the building’s structural system. This was followed by an assessment of damage sustained to key elements, while documenting the damage with photographs.. Using this information an ‘Initial structural Integrity Assessment’ was prepared stating whether a structure was deemed safe to occupy. After two long days, with four teams of structural engineers (with New Zealand and international experience), the inspections were completed. By Wednesday of that week, the ‘Initial structural Integrity Assessment’ reports had been delivered.

The experience:

As well as providing a large number of reports in a tight timeframe, it was important for me (being originally a European engineer), to receive additional firsthand experience of the effects of earthquakes on structures in New Zealand.  As a structural engineer, a considerable amount of  time is spent crunching numbers in the office. This can take the form of analysing a building for weaknesses, designing strengthening works, new build designs or attending seminars. The Wellington inspections emphasised the lessons learnt and gave me a further understanding and appreciation of the very real concerns our clients have.  Constant learning is part and parcel of this profession, whether it’s the latest practice in earthquake design or the use of new powerful computer software. Practical on site experience is just as important as theoretical learning.  The key is to combine it with client understanding to make it go further. Not all consultancies provide the opportunity to gain such a valuable practical insight into the world of seismic design. It’s why I care about working at Harrison Grierson and am passionate about my job.

This thought leadership article is by Haakon Cowper, a structural engineer at Harrison Grierson.

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