Although tragic for everyone involved, some good can come from a devastating disaster as it does provide a unique opportunity to transform the building stock, and to “build back better”. Typically, many structures will have been demolished, or need to be removed. There will also be funding, whether it is via insurance payments, assistance grants and even international aid, to help support improvements. From an island in the Caribbean to a city in central Mexico, we could now institute these profound upgrades, so that for any repeat earthquake or hurricane, the damage and losses will be much reduced. Ironically, a disaster creates the best of all times to make improvements.
There is one small problem.
Most people use this phrase when it comes to judging a person’s character, but few would think to use it when assessing a building’s preparedness against damage from seismic activity. Cracked foundations, toppled walls, and collapsed buildings are normally what comes to mind when envisioning a building damaged from an earthquake; and while they are of course costly to repair, surprisingly this type of damage is not the main cause of loss to insurers.
Over 70 percent of a building’s value comes from non-structural elements such as internal and external cladding, interior walls, glazing and the internal fit-out, such as heating and air conditioning systems, pipes, ceiling support systems, and lighting. Building codes dictate how these internal systems should be installed and detail the necessary seismic restraints to keep them in place in the event of intense ground shaking. Failure to properly implement these measures can result in significant damage and expensive payouts, even if the structural integrity and exterior of the building remains intact. Recent global earthquake events such as Kaikoura in 2016 reflect this and have shown that non-structural damage drives claims.