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Structural Engineers Developing Tsunami Design Code For Coastal Buildings

Ecola Architects, PC

SEATTLE - Building codes cover fire prevention, energy efficiency, and seismic safety among other things. Now a group of civil engineers from around the West is developing additions to the code to cover the threat of a tsunami.

Kent Yu of Degenkolb Engineers in Portland is one of the members of an American Society of Civil Engineers subcommittee drafting standards for "tsunami loads and effects."

"I think it is going to help make our communities more resilient."

Yu says traditional wood-framed beach homes and cabins have little chance of surviving a tsunami. So the code committee is focusing on larger public and commercial buildings. But even with new construction using steel or reinforced concrete, "There are lots of challenges still," Yu says. "For example, how we deal with impact forces."

That includes the impact of the tsunami wave itself as well as all manner of debris, not to mention the scouring around foundations as the water recedes. Some possible solutions include building on stilts along the coast or including breakaway walls on lower floors to let water flow through.

Yu says the process of amending the building code takes many years. He told the annual meeting of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute in Seattle that these tsunami resilient design proposals could be folded into a 2018 update of the International Building Code.

On the Web:

Subcommittee on Tsunami Loads and Effects - American Society of Civil Engineers
2013 EERI Annual Meeting - Earthquake Engineering Research Institute

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.