Engineers Develop First-Ever "Tsunami-Safe" Building Standards

November 8, 2016

Engineers Develop First-Ever "Tsunami-Safe" Building Standards

Although it may seem like tsunamis are becoming more and more frequent, they’re actually just becoming more destructive. That’s because in the last 100 years, buildings and infrastructure have been built bigger and closer to the water than ever, leaving higher numbers of people at risk. The result of underground earthquakes, tsunamis aren’t an anomaly, they’re an unavoidability.

Engineers Working Towards a Safer Tomorrow

It’s impossible to understate the strength of a tsunami. Tsunami waves can travel at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour, hitting anything in their way with the impact of a jet plane. Although a vast majority of tsunamis happen around the Pacific Ocean, several U.S. states including Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California are at risk of being struck by a devastating wave.

When a tsunami hits a densely populated area, massive loss of life is often the result. People become trapped inside low-lying buildings or crushed by falling structures that cannot bear the force of fast-moving debris. Engineers at the American Society of Civil Engineers took notice and have just issued their first-ever recommendations for “tsunami-safe” building standards to be implemented on the West Coast.

What Makes a Building “Tsunami-Safe?”

The ASCE has described the standards in detail in a new chapter of the ACE 7-16, meant to instruct future builders on tsunami risks. Though the standards only apply to steel-reinforced buildings (and not to wood framed structures), they are said to be relatively easy to implement at little extra cost for builders.

Using research studies performed at Oregon State University, the engineers estimated hydraulic forces comparable to a massive wave to test various methods of reinforcing a structure. Paying special attention to the destructive power of water-propelled debris, the group made recommendations for the materials, thicknesses, and spacing of such building elements as support beams and piers.

The new standards will act as a stand-alone set of parameters for the next six years, then be absorbed into the International Building Code. They’re most relevant for sub-five story buildings as stronger building codes should take precedence in taller builds.


Interested in learning more about the ever-changing building codes in your state or region? Shield Engineering stays up-to-date on trends and regulations in your area so you don’t have to. Call our team of experienced engineers today to learn how they can help you build safe, more cost-effective projects. 

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