Engineering lessons of Fukushima

Published 12 October 2011

Many engineers and scientists are still examining what happened at Fukushima during the earthqyake and tsunami of 11 March; one group, a Tsunami Loads-and-Effects Subcommittee sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), is preparing to publish early next year an approximately 350-page report

Japanese and American forensic engineers are still going through the debris and data from the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami to study the forces and examine how the damaged and surviving structures differ from those that were destroyed.

ENR reports that one group, a tsunami loads-and-effects subcommittee sponsored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), is preparing to publish early next year an approximately 350-page tome filled with engineering analysis and case studies from the debris.

The draft monograph carries a hopeful message. “It is quite possible to design buildings and other structures to withstand tsunami events,” the ENR quotes the report to say. “This is desirable for taller buildings that may serve as refuges, taller buildings that may not be easily evacuated, buildings whose failure may pose a substantial risk to human life, [as well as] essential facilities and critical infrastructure.”

Team leader Gary Chock, president of structural engineers, Martin & Chock Inc., Honolulu, says, “In our own minds, because the damage was so great, we found ourselves — perhaps analogously to some of our predecessors in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake — trying to create a thorough documentation of the structural damage here.”

Marc Percher, a senior engineer with the Halcrow Group in Oakland, California, who has a draft and is the leader of another ASCE tsunami team developing a report on ports and harbors, told ENR that “It’s an excellent report…. Japan is going to turn into one of the greatest case studies available,” Percher predicts, adding that the tsunami load study, by getting to the physics of the loading phenomenon, will add significantly to our understanding of what happens to infrastructure as the water overwhelms them and the currents continue build. “Determining the current values is very valuable to the entire community,” Percher says.