Earthquake Engineering & Design

Earthquake Engineering is a field of engineering which deals with earthquakes and their effects on structures, such as buildings, bridges, towers, etc. An earthquake engineer is responsible for estimating the earthquake risk in the region of the structure, and its appropriate design to ensure that the structure withstands probable future earthquakes.

Engineers discussing blueprints

What is earthquake engineering design?

Earthquake Engineering Design is the application of earthquake science and past earthquake experiences to the design of new and existing buildings. The design takes into account the effects of the earthquake motion on the structure, and addresses the structure’s weaknesses against this phenomenon. Earthquake engineering design aims to ensure that built structures withstand frequent and moderate earthquakes, and survive strong ones without collapsing.

Why is it important?

As with any other natural phenomenon, earthquakes and their effects should be considered when designing a structure to ensure its safety. Imagine if you do not consider rain in the design of your building, and forget about the roof! Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon, but ones that typically occur less frequently.

How is earthquake engineering design used?

The first task of the earthquake engineer is to estimate the strength of the earthquake that could occur in the region. Earthquakes are classified based on their properties: strength and frequency of occurrence. According to the importance of the designed structure, it is designed to remain undamaged during more frequent earthquakes, and not to collapse under less frequent but very strong earthquakes. This is because it is either very expensive or virtually impossible to design a structure that can withstand any earthquake.

Where is earthquake engineering design used?

As earthquakes can occur almost anywhere on Earth, this design should be used everywhere. However, there are certain regions that are known to have more earthquakes, like California in the United States, and earthquake-resistant design is of special importance. Although there are some places with no recorded strong earthquakes, there is commonly a minimum earthquake that designers have to consider to increase the safety of structures.

What happens if it is not used?

If a structure is not designed to withstand earthquakes that occur in the region, those structures are not safe places. Currently construction codes require all structures to meet the standards for seismically safe design. One of the major reasons for destructive earthquakes that result in huge death tolls, is that the buildings are not properly designed for earthquakes.

If you would like to learn more about earthquake engineering, please read this article prepared by the MCEER Information Service and Mehdi Ahmadizadeh, PhD, SUNY Buffalo.