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Currently How to Make Buildings & Aircraft
Hangars &
Building Structures Earthquake Doors
Proof Church
What is an earthquake
What makes a building or
Churches in
Church Designs

structure fail in earthquakes?
How can we make buildings Commercial
resistant to earthquakes? Buildings
When looking at design and Commercial
construction, how do we Buildings
earthquake proof buildings? Examples
How can existing buildings be Of ce Buildings
strengthened to resist Examples
earthquakes? Leisure
There are a wide variety of earthquake
effects – these might include a chasm
Steel Retail
opening up or a drop of many metres
across a fault line.
Therefore, it is not possible to design Steel
an earthquake proof building which is Buildings
guaranteed to resist all possible Low
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However, it is possible during your Carbon
Recently design and construction process to Construction
build in a number of earthquake Thermal Mass
Completed resistant features by applying in Buildings
earthquake engineering techniques, Green Roofs
which would increase enormously the Crash
chances of survival of both buildings
and their occupants.
What is an earthquake? Factory
Both the seabed and the land that we
inhabit are formed of a crusty skin of
light rocks oating on the soft centre and
of the earth, which is made of heavier Stadiums
molten rock and molten iron. This Galvanised
crusty skin is not one solid piece but is Grandstands
made up of lumps, separated by faults and Stadiums
and trenches, or pressed together into Bleachers
mountains. Cricket
These separate lumps and plates are Grandstands

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not static but are moved in slow and Stadia
motion by convection forces in the Examples 1
molten core, gravitational forces from Grandstands
the Sun and Moon and centrifugal and Stadia
forces from the Earth’s rotation. Examples 2
Some plates are moving apart, and Stadia
particularly in the Mid Ocean Trenches, Examples 3
where molten material pushes up and Rockingham
shoves the plates apart, whilst others Motor
are bumping into each other head on, Speedway
these form mountains like the Industrial
Himalayas (the whole of the Indian
Sub Continent is moving northwards
and hitting Asia, for example). Multi-
Call Us on storey Car
01202 48 3333 Some are sliding one over another, like Parks
the west coast of the Americas, where
the land plates are sliding over the
denser ocean bed plates, causing the Structures
Andes and the Rockies to be thrust Earthquake
If you'd like to upwards. Some plates are moving Resistant
visit us in along past each other, sticking Buildings
person we are together a while at a fault line, often in Strengthening
located combination with bumping or sliding Existing
centrally on the under/over (As in San Francisco). Buildings
south coast - Tsunami
just click on the All of these movements cause Resistant
map for our earthquakes (and usually volcanoes as Building
location and well). If the movement was steady, Blast Resistant
travel about a millimetre or so a year, no one Buildings
directions. would notice. But the plates tend to Hurricane Proof
jam; the movement carries on, but the Structures &
material where they touch is stretched, Homes
or compressed, or bent sideways. Flood
The material deforms (like stretching Flood Defences
or compressing or twisting a bit of critical-
plastic). At some stage it reaches the national-
breaking point along all or part of the infrastructure
joint, then it breaks, and there is a Building
sudden movement. The movement may Ventilation in
It doesn't be tiny or may be several feet; but Hot Climates
matter which enormous amounts of energy are Steel
released, far more than the biggest
country you live Bridges
in - Over the Nuclear Bombs.
past 90 years Beam Road
we've shipped The shock waves from this release of
to and built our energy shoot out in all directions, like Over Truss
structures all the ripples when you throw a stone in
Road Bridges
across the a pond: except that they travel faster
Through Truss

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globe, even in through the land. They can be
Road Bridges
some of the measured all around the whole world.
Steel Bridges –
remotest This is an Earthquake.
Examples 1
locations Steel Bridges –
imaginable! Prior to the Earthquake there are often Examples 2
little warning shakes, where highly Stayed Bridges
stressed bits break and the plate joints
readjust themselves a little, but allow Warehouse
the main join to become more stressed. Buildings
After the primary Earthquake when the Waste
main join has failed and moved, there management
is another readjustment, and further
REIDsteel can bits around the fault become REIDmarine
manage your overstressed too, and they fail. …………
entire project Glazing and
from inception These aftershocks can themselves be
to completion,
highly energetic Earthquakes. After the
all under one Earthquake, the area settles down Walling
roof . again. But the movement carries on Fire Doors
and the next Earthquake is already Structural
As a CE building up, remorselessly. Glazing, Doors
Marking & Curtain
approved People forget and build buildings and Walling
company you structures that are going to kill their Examples 1
can be certain children next time when they could Structural
that your ensure that during the design and Glazing, Doors
projects will be construction phase some earthquake & Curtain
fully compliant proof measures have been Walling
incorporated. Examples 2
with current Back to Top Structural
legislation. Glazing, Doors
What makes a building or structure fail & Curtain
A lawful in earthquakes? Walling
requirement for Examples 3
UK and EU An Earthquake moves the ground. It Bene ts of
structures since can be one sudden movement, but
July 1st 2014. more often it is a series of shock waves
at short intervals, like our ripples from Steel
the pebble in the pond analogy above. Construction
It can move the land up and down, and Glossary
it can move it from side to side. Glossary of
All buildings can carry their own Terminology
weight (or they would fall down
anyway by themselves). They can
usually carry a bit of snow and a few
other oor loads and suspended loads
as well, vertically; so even badly built
buildings and structures can resist
some up-and-down loads.

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But buildings and structures are not
necessarily resistant to side-to-side
loads, unless this has been taken into
account during the structural
engineering design and construction
phase with some earthquake proof
measures taken into consideration.
This weakness would only be found
out when the Earthquake strikes, and
this is a bad time to nd out. It is this
side-to-side load which causes the
worst damage, often collapsing poor
buildings on the rst shake.

The side-to-side load can be worse if

the shocks come in waves, and some
bigger buildings can vibrate like a
huge tuning fork, each new sway
bigger than the last, until failure. This
series of waves is more likely to
happen where the building is built on
deep soft ground, like Mexico City. A
taller or shorter building nearby may
not oscillate much at the same

Often more weight has been added to

a building or structure at most
frequently at greater heights; say
another oor and another over that;
walls built round open balconies and
inside partitions to make more,
smaller, rooms; rocks piled on roofs to
stop them blowing away; storage
inside. This extra weight produces
great forces on the structure and helps
it collapse.

The more weight there is, and the

higher this weight is in the building,
the stronger the building and its
foundations must be to be resistant to
side earthquakes; many buildings have
not been strengthened when the extra
weight was added.

Often, any resistance to the sway

loading of the building is provided by
walls and partitions; but these are
sometimes damaged and weakened in
the Main Earthquake. The building or

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structure is then more vulnerable, and
even a weak aftershock, perhaps from
a slightly different direction, or at a
different frequency, can cause collapse.

In a lot of multi storey buildings, the

oors and roofs are just resting on the
walls, held there by their own weight;
and if there is any structural framing it
is too often inadequate. This can result
in a oor or roof falling off its support
and crashing down, crushing anything

Often more weight has been added to

building or structure at a higher level,
for example another oor, extra walls
and partitions, extra storage or even
rocks piled on roofs to stop them
blowing away. Small cracks appear in
the concrete.

The bonding of the ‘stirrups’ (the small

steel bars which bind the main
reinforcement together) to the
concrete weakens, the outer concrete
crumbles (spalling), the main
reinforcing bars can bend outwards
away from the column and all strength
disappears. This was beautifully
demonstrated under the Oakland
Freeway, where huge round concrete
columns crumbled and crumpled.

They have now been reinforced with

massive belts around them as a result
of an earthquake engineering review
and to improve structural dynamics.

In a lot of multi storey buildings the

lower oor has more headroom (so
taller columns); and it often has more
openings (so less walls); and it is
usually stood on ‘pinned’ feet with no
continuity. So the ground-to- rst oor
columns, which carry the biggest loads
from the weight and the biggest
cumulative sideways loads from the
earthquake, are the longest and the
least restrained and have the least end

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They are often the rst to fail. It only
takes one to fail for the worst sort of
disaster, the pancake collapse so
familiar to any one who has seen the
results in Armenia, Mexico, Turkey, Iran,
Peru, and now Pakistan and Kashmir.
Sometimes buildings are built on soft
soil; this can turn into quicksand when
shaken about, leading to complete
slumping of buildings into the soil.

Some tall buildings can stay almost

intact but fall over in their entirety.
The taller the building, the more likely
this is to happen, particularly if the
building can oscillate at the frequency
of the shock waves, and particularly if
some liquefaction of soft soil
underneath has allowed the building
to tilt.

Back to Top

How can we make buildings resistant

to earthquakes with earthquake
To be earthquake proof, buildings,
structures and their foundations need
to be built to be resistant to sideways
loads. The lighter the building is, the
less the loads. This is particularly so
when the weight is higher up. Where
possible the roof should be of light-
weight material. If there are oors and
walls and partitions, the lighter these
are the better, too.

If the sideways resistance is to be

obtained from walls, these walls must
go equally in both directions. They
must be strong enough to take the
loads. They must be tied in to any
framing, and reinforced to take load in
their weakest direction. They must not
fall apart and must remain in place
after the worst shock waves so as to
retain strength for the after shocks.

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If the sideways resistance comes from
diagonal bracing then it must also go
equally all round in both directions.
Where possible, it should be strong
enough to accept load in tension as
well as compression: the bolted or
welded connections should resist more
tension than the ultimate tension
value of the brace (or well more than
the design load) and it should not
buckle with loads well above the
design load.

And the loads have got to go down to

ground in a robust way. If the sideways
load is to be resisted with moment
resisting framing then great care has
to be taken to ensure that the joints
are stronger than the beams, and that
the beams will fail before the columns,
and that the columns cannot fail by
spalling if in concrete. Again the rigid
framing should go all around, and in
both directions.

If the building earthquake resistance is

to come from moment resisting frames,
then special care should be taken with
the foundation-to- rst oor level. If
the requirement is to have a taller
clear height, and to have open holes in
the walls, then the columns at this
level may have to be much stronger
than at higher levels; and the beams at
the rst oor, and the columns from
ground to second oor, have to be able
to resist the turning loads these
columns deliver to the frame.

Alternatively, and preferably, the

columns can be given continuity at the
feet. This can be done with ‘ xed feet’
with many bolts into large foundations,
or by having a grillage of steel beams
at the foundation level able to resist
the column moments. Such steel
grillage can also keep the foundations
in place.

If the beams in the frame can bend and

yield a little at their highest stressed

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points, without losing resistance, while
the joints and the columns remain full
strength, then a curious thing happens:
the resonant frequency of the whole
frame changes. If the building was
vibrating in time with shock waves,
this vibration will tend to be damped

This phenomenon is known as ‘plastic

hingeing’ and is easily demonstrated in
steel beams, though a similar thing can
happen with reinforced concrete
beams as long as spalling is avoided.

All oors have to be connected to the

framing in a robust and resilient way.
They should never be able to shake
loose and fall. Again all oors should
be as light as possible. They should go
all round each column and x to every
supporting beam or wall, in a way that
cannot be shaken off.

One way of reducing the vulnerability

of big buildings is to isolate them from
the oor using bearings or dampers,
but this is a dif cult and expensive
process not suitable for low and
medium rise buildings and low cost

(though it may be a good technique for

Downtown Tokyo). Generally it is wise
to build buildings that are not too high
compared to their width in Earthquake
areas, unless special precautions are

Back to Top

When looking at design and

construction, how do we earthquake
proof buildings?

When designing earthquake safe

structures the rst consideration is to
make the highest bit, the roof, as light
as possible. This is best done with
pro led steel cladding on light gauge
steel Zed purlins. This can also have

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double skin with spacers and
insulation. It can have a roof slope
between 3 and 15 degrees. If it is
required to have a ‘ at’ roof, this could
be made with a galvanised steel
decking and solid insulation boards,
and topped with a special membrane.
Even a ‘ at’ roof should have a slope of
about 2 degrees.

If it is required to have a ‘ at’ concrete

roof, then the best solution is to have
steel joists at about 2m, 6″, centres,
and over these to have composite style
roof decking. Then an RC slab can be
poured over the roof, with no
propping; the slab will only be say
110mm, 4 1/2″, and will weigh only
about 180 kg/sqm. Such a slab will be
completely bonded to the frame and
will not be able to slip off, or collapse.

If the building or structure is a normal

single storey, then any normal portal
frame or other steel framed building, if
the design and construction is
competently done, will be resistant to
Earthquake loads. If it is to have 2 or
more stories, more needs to be done to
ensure its survival in an earthquake. As
with the roof, the oors should be
made as light as possible. The rst way
to do this is to use traditional timber
joists and timber or chipboard or
plywood ooring. If this is done it is
vital that the timber joists are rmly
through bolted on the frames to avoid
them slipping or being torn off. The
frame needs them for stability and the
oor must never fall down.

A better alternative is to substitute

light gauge steel Zeds for the timber
joists. These can span further and are
easier to bolt rmly to the framework.
Then, oor-boards or tongue-and-
groove chipboard can easily be
screwed to the Zeds. However in
Hotels, Apartment buildings, Of ces
and the like, concrete oors may be
needed. In such cases we should

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reduce the spans to the spanning
capacity of composite decking ooring,
and pour reinforced concrete slabs
onto our decking. The decking is xed
to the joists, the joists into the main
beams, the main beams into the
columns and the concrete is poured
around all the columns. There is simply
no way that such oors can fall off the

Proof building diagram

Once the oors are robustly tted to

the frames, the frames themselves
must be correctly designed. Please
look at the diagram above.
Start at the bottom. The frame should
not be built on simple pinned feet at
ground level. Outside earthquake
zones it is normal to build a ‘nominally
pinned footing’ under each column.
This actually gives some xity to the
base as well as horizontal and vertical
support. But in an earthquake, this
footing may be moving and rotating, so
rather than provide a bit of xity, it can
push to left or right, or up and down,
and rotate the column base, helping
the building to collapse prematurely.

Any pinned footing may actually be

moving differently from other footings
on the same building, and so not even
be giving horizontal or vertical
support, but actually helping to tear
the building apart. So to earthquake
proof the building REIDsteel would
start with steel ground beams joining

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the feet together, and these should
have moment resistance to prevent the
bottoms of the columns from rotating.

These ground beams may well go

outside the line of the building, thus
effectively reducing the height-to-
width ratio as well, helping to reduce
total over-turning. This ground beam
may be built on pads or piles or rafts
as appropriate. On loose soils, the
bearing pressure should be very
conservatively chosen, to minimise
effect of liquefaction.

By applying earthquake engineering

techniques, REIDsteel would then t
the columns to these ground beams
with strong moment connections.
Either the connections should be
strong in both directions, or some
columns designed to resist loads in
one direction and others in the other
direction. The columns should not be
the item that fails rst: the ground
beam should be able to rotate and
form plastic hinges before either the
connection or the column fails.
The reason is that a column failing
could instigate a collapse; the
connection failing could instigate the
column failure. In comparison, the
plastic hinging of the ground beam
takes time, absorbs energy, and
changes the resonant frequency of the
frame while leaving the frame nearly
full strength.

Next, REIDsteel would x the main

beams to the outer columns with full
capacity joints. This will almost always
mean haunched connections. Great
care would be taken to consider the
shear within the column at these
connections. The connections should
be equally strong in both up or down
directions, and the bolt arrangement
should never fail before the beam or
the column. In extreme earthquake
sway, the beams should always be able

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to form hinges somewhere, in one or
two places, without the column with
its axial load failing elastically.

In this way the frame can de ect, the

plastic hinges can absorb energy; the
resonant frequency of the structure is
altered, all without collapse or major
loss of strength. All this takes a little
time until the tremor passes. The inner
columns do not give a lot of sway
resistance, but even so, should have
connections which do not fail before
the beam or the column. Then, the
oors are tted, Light-weight or
conventional cladding is tted to the
frames, light-weight or thin concrete
roofs are tted as described above. You
have a building that will behave very
well in an earthquake with signi cant
resistance to damage.

Nothing can be guaranteed to be fully

resistant to any possible earthquake,
but buildings and structures like the
ones proposed here by REIDsteel
would have the best possible chance of
survival; and would save many lives
and livelihoods, providing greater
safety from an earthquake.

Rollo Reid
C Eng FIStrucE, REIDsteel

Strengthening Existing Buildings

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