U restructures buildings for earthquake protection

By By Michael Olson, Staff Writer

By Michael Olson, Staff Writer

The U stepped up to remodel the Park Building in Presidents’ Circle when pieces began falling onto the sidewalk, but the historic building isn’t the only one that needs fixing.

After three years of documenting building safety and inspecting for natural disasters, the Department of Environmental and Health Safety found multiple buildings on campus that are in need of remodeling, including OSH, the Merrill Engineering Building and the Fletcher Building.

Many of the buildings are cause for concern because students and faculty use them for classrooms five days a week.

The Disaster-Resistant University project team, which includes professors in the College of Engineering, the College of Architecture and Planning, and members of the environmental and health safety department, is finishing the pre-disaster mitigation plan, which it hopes to submit for review in June 2009.

Through the plan, the group has determined what buildings on campus need to be redesigned in order to withstand an earthquake, said Marty Shaub, director of the environmental and health safety department.

She said the team is designing a list of priorities of what needs to be fixed first to make the U ready for a possible natural disaster.

In order to fund the project, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded the U $500,000 in 2006, the largest grant FEMA has given to a university. FEMA also awarded the project team an additional $250,000 to begin research.

“By the spring of ’09, this thing should be pretty well wrapped up,” said Pieter van der Have, senior facilities management consultant at the U.

The first survey and pre-disaster mitigation plan was completed in 1989. It focused on the structural integrity of the buildings on campus. After 20 years of remodeling and new buildings, it was time to update that information.

“This plan is updated for new buildings on campus that were built in the last 20 years, which is quite a few,” van der Have said.

Besides OSH, Merrill and Fletcher, Shaub said the top seven buildings that need remodeling include the Eyring Building, a high temperature water plant and a biology building.

Shaub said FEMA will need to review and approve the plan, but it could take a while.

“(We expect that) 2009 will be a big year for agency reorganizations…with the changes in the White House and Cabinet,” Shaub said.

The plan looks at estimated loss of life from natural disasters, damage potential, hazardous materials that would be released and how critical it is to bring each building up to date.

To consider the danger posed by each building, Shaub and her team organized an advisory committee to address the concerns of students, faculty, research facilities and the U Hospital. Next, they examined each building on campus to determine how safe it was if a natural disaster was to strike.

Research assistants from the College of Engineering took soil sampling to estimate what the ground under the U would do during an earthquake. Civil engineers then determined what effects the earthquake would have on each building.

Researchers from the College of Architecture ran simulations to see what would happen inside the buildings.

The David Eccles School of Business estimated damage costs.

Armed with this data, Shaub and her team can predict injuries or fatalities caused by an earthquake on campus. With this data, they could also guess how much damage a facility, like the U Hospital, can take before it loses its ability to function.

“We must ensure that they stay open at all costs,” Shaub said. “You can’t negotiate with a patient in a hospital to hang on while we stop being a hospital and go sit over here on the side.”

She said they can’t release more exact data until the report is submitted.

One of the challenges Shaub faces is communicating that no building or department is getting special treatment.

“We’re going to get to all of them,” said Shaub. “We are moving as quickly as we can.”

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Greg Harlow

The U has been working to remodel the Park Building this year. The Department of Environmental and Health Safety has been looking in to what other U buildings are in need of a remodel.