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Sat 14 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Damage control

SK Ghosh director of SK Ghosh Associates, a seismic consulting practice, discusses how earthquake provisions will soon be enforced by Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipal Affairs through the emirate's new building codes.

Damage control

SK Ghosh director of SK Ghosh Associates, a seismic consulting practice, discusses how earthquake provisions will soon be enforced by Abu Dhabi's Department of Municipal Affairs through the emirate's new building codes.

How do seismic provisions work?

You can make an earthquake-resistant structure out of any material that is typically used when constructing a building such as concrete, steel or wood. It is not the materials you choose that makes it resistant to earthquakes, but how you put them together to form a structure. This is where the code regulations come in - to ensure that the design will be done properly.

In the case of reinforced concrete, which is a popular material in this part of the world, it is about how you arrange the reinforcing bars within the structure - where you place them, how you place them and how many. The code provides information on how to put a structure together that will resist ground motion. Unfortunately, what is good for earthquake resistance is not always what the engineer and architect wants - they want simplicity. So, there is an inherent problem to begin with.

Are there many projects in Abu Dhabi that already have implemented seismic provisions?

Seismic provisions are the integral part of the international building code. When Abu Dhabi adopts the code, seismic provisions will come with it. Seismic design has been done in most cases, but there is no uniformity or enforcement to make sure it is done with every project.

What are the penalties for non-compliance with the code?

It depends on the local authority but, in the US, it doesn't actually get to the penalty stage. If the inspector finds violations then the owner will be required to correct them before they are awarded a certificate of occupancy.

In the absence of that certificate, the owner cannot start using his building. This is a big leverage that the local jurisdiction has in enforcing the code. I do not know of any case where somebody has occupied a building without a certificate of occupancy.

The city tells them that they will either have to correct a violation or they will not get their certificate.

How can more contractors in the Middle East be encouraged to implement provisions in their projects?

Adopting a code is one thing, but what is also important, if not more important, is the enforcement of the code. In the US there are designs that are checked with the compliance with the code by the local jurisdiction. There are also inspectors that go to the site to make sure that construction is in compliance with the building codes. These mechanisms have to be developed here. There needs to be inspections because contractors may not then comply with the code and then the purpose is defeated.

Is there really a need for earthquake provisions in this part of the world?

There aren't many earthquakes in the Gulf, but Iran often has them and an earthquake in Iran would definitely be felt out here. Earthquakes are not localised and ground motion caused by earthquakes 100 miles away can be significant. So, seismic provisions are definitely something that need to be considered. It is almost like buying insurance - if there is something that you know might happen it is better to prepare for it now than to be sorry later.

Do you think the rest of the UAE will eventually implement building codes?

I'm not sure, but I suspect that the smaller emirates will follow Abu Dhabi's lead. However, Dubai, which has a significant volume of construction, has three separate authorities - Jafza, Dubai Municipality and Tecom. And, from what I have seen, the three of them don't talk to one another. So, for Dubai to adopt the codes it might be a bit more difficult. I think Ras Al Khaimah will follow Abu Dhabi's footsteps.

Ghosh heads his own consulting practice, SK Ghosh Associates, in Palatine, Illinois and Aliso Viejo, California and is a professor of civil engineering at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He was formerly director of engineering services, codes, and standards for the Portland Cement Association. He is known internationally for his work in earthquake engineering and has influenced seismic design provisions in the US for many years, by serving on, or chairing, numerous committees and advisory panels. Ghosh specialises in the analysis and design, including wind and earthquake resistant design, of reinforced and prestressed concrete structures.

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