• Post-disaster rebuildingRebuilding a safer and stronger Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

    By Wendy Christie and Brigitte Laboukly

    Three months ago Cyclone Pam swept across Vanuatu, leaving 75,000 people in need of emergency shelter and damaging or destroying about 15,000 buildings, including homes, schools, and medical facilities. Since then, one of the most hotly debated questions within communities and on social media has been about how Vanuatu can rebuild so that it’s safer, stronger, and more resilient to future cyclones. Achieving this is not as simple as you might think. The strength and safety of buildings is critical — especially when you are rebuilding in a cyclone-prone region. But housing in particular is about more than walls and roofs; it’s also about community, traditions, culture, and supporting the way people want to live. While the strength of buildings and their ability to withstand cyclones are very important, so too are the strength and resilience of the people of Vanuatu, who have been living with the annual cyclone season for generations. The reconstruction of Vanuatu needs a diverse approach that is not solely reliant on quickly prefabricated or engineered solutions, and which keeps people at the heart of the rebuilding process.

  • ResilienceNepal should use updated, upgraded building codes in post-disaster construction: Experts

    Urban planners and disaster experts who have been arriving in Kathmandu to inventory, assess, and make recommendations have been urging the Nepalese authorities to “Build it back better.” There are plenty of examples of post-disaster construction built significantly safer, using low-cost traditional materials and methods. Nepal has last updated its building code in 1994.

  • TunnelsUsing shotcrete to make tunnels withstand terrorist attacks

    Conflagrations and terrorist attacks are a threat for tunnels and bridges, so engineers are searching for ways to make tunnels and bridges as robust as possible. Construction materials, such as special types of high-performance concrete, which can partly absorb the impact of explosions, already exist, but due to their manufacturing principle, they cannot be made in any other shape than the slab, which cannot be used for cladding surfaces with complex geometries. A new type of shotcrete — which used to be considered impossible to manufacture — was created by scientists to render the structures more robust. Despite its high steel and synthetic-fiber contents, it can be sprayed on easily.

  • EarthquakesDisaster and recovery: The unexpected shall come to be expected

    By Vincent T Gawronski

    In the days following the Nepal earthquake, the media has been focusing on the heart-wrenching human interest and hero-tragedy stories, but what must be emphasized is that this disaster was anticipated. More importantly, we now have the tools and building technologies to mitigate the impact of even major earthquakes. The frequency of earthquakes has not changed over the past few million years, but now millions of people live in vulnerable situations. The unexpected must come to be expected. Much-needed humanitarian assistance must transition into long-term development efforts. Simply put, instilling a culture of disaster risk reduction, investing in hazard mitigation, building as best as we can, and retrofitting what remains, will save lives.

  • InfrastructureEngineers develop world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge

    Civil Engineers at Queen’s University Belfast in collaboration with pre-cast concrete specialists Macrete Ireland have developed the world’s longest “flat pack” arch bridge. Based on the FlexiArch system, the bridge is unique in that it will be transported to site in flat-pack form but when lifted, will transform under gravity into an arch. A FlexiArch bridge requires little maintenance and should last 300 years, compared to the projected lifespan of up to 120 years that accompanies a conventional bridge.

  • InfrastructureUsing prefabrication in construction saves money

    Developers often choose prefabrication to save time on a project. Because the process of building a unit — like a bathroom or an exterior wall panel — off site can be more expensive up front, due largely to the cost of transporting the finished products to the job site, the overall financial benefits have not been well understood. A new study — one of the first to try and quantify the full costs and benefits of using prefabricated elements in a large-scale construction project – found that using prefabricated elements in the construction of the new Saint Joseph Hospital in Denver – opened on 13 December — cut seventy-two workdays off the construction schedule and resulted in $4.3 million in savings.

  • view counter
  • EarthquakesSeismic retrofitting of older buildings helps, but it has its limits

    Even before last Sunday’s magnitude-6 earthquake struck Napa, officials anticipated that such an event would damage many of Napa’s historic brick buildings. So years ago, brick structures were required to get seismic retrofitting — bolting brick walls to ceilings and floors to make them stronger. “We can’t keep every single brick in place in many of these older buildings without extraordinarily costly retrofits,” says a structural engineer. “We can reduce the damage in losses, but not eliminate them entirely in older buildings.”

  • Seismic protectionCold-formed steel construction withstands seismic challenges better than expected

    Engineering researchers have provided the building blocks necessary for enabling performance-based design for cold-formed steel buildings, structures that have shown in shake-test experiments at the State University of New York at Buffalo to withstand seismic loading much better than previously expected. Light, strong, and easy to construct cold-formed steel (CFS) buildings are repetitively framed with light steel members and conform to well-defined seismic design codes. Until this latest research, however, engineers and builders significantly underestimated the seismic strength of cold-formed steel structures.

  • Holy infrastructureErosion research could guide new preservation techniques

    Visitors to the Western Wall in Jerusalem can see that some of its stones are extremely eroded. This is good news for people placing prayer notes in the wall’s cracks and crevices, but presents a problem for engineers concerned about the structure’s stability. Research could guide development of new preservation techniques for weakened structures.

  • Nuclear powerHopes for quicker, cheaper ways to build nuclear power plants dim

    Promises of building a more cost effective U.S. nuclear industry continue to face setbacks as alternative energy sources like natural gas become cheaper for utilities, while new models for nuclear plants face cost overruns.Nuclear reactor developers sought to build new plants using prefabricated Lego-like blocks to save time and reduce labor costs, butanalysts consider the designs for the new nuclear reactors to be difficult or impossible to build.

  • Infrastructure protection“Smart” rocks detect bridge damage

    It is hard to gauge how structurally sound a bridge is when its foundation is buried in a riverbed deep below the water’s surface. New “smart” rocks which are being developed by researchers will give engineers an accurate, easy and cost-effective tool to monitor a bridge’s foundation, in real time. The leading cause of bridge collapse in the United States is scour, an erosion process where water flow carries away river bed deposits and creates scour holes around the bridge pier or abutment. Smart rocks placed at the base of bridge foundations are designed to roll to the deepest point of a scour hole and act as field agents to relay scour depths.

  • DisastersInnovative projects seek emergency housing alternative to FEMA’s trailers

    Brownsville, Texas may soon become a model for other hurricane-ravaged cities as community groups institute new emergency housing measures in the wake of inexcusable hold-ups on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in providing reconstruction support to the South Texas coast after $1.35 billion in damage from Hurricane Dolly in 2008.

  • InfrastructureNumber of structurally deficient bridges in U.S. declines

    The number of structurally deficient bridges in the United States has declined by 14 percent in the last six years, but despite the improvement, 10 percent of American bridges are in need of maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. The average age of bridges in the country is forty-three years old, and most bridges were built to last for fifty-years, so eventually all bridges will become structurally deficient unless they are repaired or replaced.

  • InfrastructureRecession-related cost measures blamed for U.S. infrastructure lagging development

    In an alarming fall, the United States is currently ranked 19th in the quality of its infrastructure, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. Additionally, the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given the country a D+ on its annual Infrastructure Report Card, arguing that $3.6 trillion is needed by 2020 for maintenance and upgrades.

  • Infrastructure protectionBetter building design, maintenance would cut building sector’s emissions by around 80%

    The construction industry, which uses half of the 1.5 billion tons of steel produced each year, could slash its carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent by optimizing the design of new buildings, which currently use double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes. If buildings are also maintained for their full design life and not replaced early, the sector’s emissions could in total be cut by around 80 percent.