My Civic Duty

Monday, March 14, 2011

It has taken me a while to get going this morning, time change and all. I wanted to do something up-lifting and light-hearted but instead I feel a civic duty coming on. I feel the need to share some personal knowledge.

We all are reeling from the devastation in Japan and the horrific visuals that are being presented, my heart bleeds for them. This however, is not my topic I wish to address.

I do not know about other countries but here in the US the news agencies keep asking us, “What if…in the US?” This is  the subject I want to enlighten some of you on. You know my past career was in architecture, right?! Do you know the first design puzzle you are taught to solve?

Building codes; most Americans assume building codes are put in place to save them from such disasters or at the least minimize the loss of life. This is not always the case.

Brief history; building codes evolve from disasters. For every US disaster the code is re-written to strengthen future buildings against whatever disaster just transpired. The LA high-rise fire added verbiage protecting against fires leaping floors vertically. The Beverly Hills supper club fire changed egress requirements and so on.

The code we now use is known as the International Building Code, though why I’m not sure. We do not impose building practices such as Canada or Japan, ours are lax in comparison. Never does the code require retro-fit (requiring existing building to meet the new code).

The design question we are asked to solve? How do I build this and still meet code? Generally the design breaks so many code requirements you as the detailer just laugh. You are then rewarded with the order of, “just make it work.”

I bring this entire subject up because here in the US we live with a false sense of security. There are buildings on the west coast that no, will not survive a quake. Many of the bridges throughout the US will collapse and utilities will just not be there. Disasters occur in every state of the union and earthquakes are not limited to the west coast.

Think of where you live; how many bridges do you cross to get somewhere? Imagine if those bridges were suddenly gone; an example to make you think.

The entire point to this post is knowledge. Knowledge is power to prevail. As horrific as it is to watch things unfold in Japan it could have been much worse. Japan understood their environment, their land, their building materials and planned, properly.

I realize this is a downer of a post, for that I apologize but for you my US blogging buddies I want awareness. I want you to know I never stay in a motel room above the 7th floor, I fly across bridges and I hate high-rise buildings.

I am not a chicken little and no the sky is not falling; I am an informed mother hen passing on knowledge to her flock.

My hearts weeps for Japan and my mind says silent prayers. I pray both for Japan and for us. Again I apologize for this downer of a post. Try to have a wonderful week in spite of me.

Peace my friends…


Lana D said, 

My heart hurts for the people of Japan, too.

I'm curious though, why never stay above the 7th floor? It's not an issue where I live - I think we have exactly ONE hotel in the entire STATE that has more floors than that. I used to think it was a real treat to stay on the 15th floor and be able to look out over the city at night. Now you have me wondering!

March 14, 2011 at 10:18 AM  

Great point Jules....makes a person stop and think.

March 14, 2011 at 10:27 AM  
Alex J. Cavanaugh said, 

It's very tragic.
Since one of the largest fault lines lies under Memphis, I've always said if they have an earthquake, that whole city is gone.

March 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM  
Karen Walker said, 

I think everyone is reeling from what happened in Japan. It's hard to believe we're not watching some disaster movie. It helps to write about it, so please don't apologize for this post. It's thoughtful.

March 14, 2011 at 10:34 AM  
Jessica Bell said, 

This is very interesting! I had no idea you were an architect. I don't know why the building strategies Japan use aren't used everywhere. The world is becoming chaotic. you never know what's around the corner!

March 14, 2011 at 11:01 AM  
welcome to my world of poetry said, 

I applaud you for writing as you say in your own words a downer of a blog, but it does make people think and that is not a bad thing.
Yes it is terrible what has happened but as citizens we have a right to know what CAN happen in our own part of the world.

Take care.

March 14, 2011 at 11:03 AM  
Summer Ross said, 

I don't think this post was a downer at all- actually its a learning experience- and that can't be considered a downer in my world! Have a great day Jules and thanks for posting!

March 14, 2011 at 11:13 AM  
Karen Lange said, 

You're just being practical, and I agree, we don't have to go off the deep end to make some good changes and have a good awarenes of things.

My husband is a carpenter, and before that, he was a landscape contractor. It always bothered him how lax people are about even the existing codes and how unconcerned some are for other's safety. It's not all about making a buck and getting it done. It's about doing a good job and doing the right thing. Thanks for sharing, Jules.

March 14, 2011 at 12:27 PM  

As caregiver of a disabled daughter, I think of these kinds of details all the time. Motels on the ground floor. A house whose front door is ground-level. Where we live there are no bridges, etc. etc.

Like you, those suffering people in Japan are in my thoughts all the time. Not that it's keeping me from living where I am, but I feel so deeply for them!

A thought-provoking post that is, as Karen (above says), practical.

March 14, 2011 at 12:33 PM  
N. R. Williams said, 

Times like tease I wish I were a millionaire so I could send a lot of money. I'm not, so I pray and perhaps that is what is most needed. Prayer for the people and for the rescuers.

I agree about the building codes and lack there of. It's not always a national disaster that strikes. Recently, while a bridge was under construction here over a busy interstate highway it collapsed killing a family. Mother, father, two year old daughter and one unborn child. It was shocking. Then news came out that several people had seen the bridge begin to buckle a half hour earlier and called 911. No one did anything.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium, Special .99 through April 30

March 14, 2011 at 12:53 PM  
Mary Vaughn said, 

People make fun of me for the bridge and 7th floor thing. I don't give a hoot.
It's not a downer it's a warning of concern for your fellow man.

March 14, 2011 at 1:04 PM  
Tammy said, 

Downer? It never hurts to be informed. I sort of wish you'd post more things to avoid, except that there's just too much we can't do anything about. It's scary for me because St. Louis is near a MAJOR fault. Sending prayers to the people of Japan....

March 14, 2011 at 3:08 PM  
The Golden Eagle said, 

I don't think this post is a downer; it's an eye-opener. The mention of bridges made my pause--around here, there are many bridges, and they're always busy with traffic. I'm sure the city would have a lot of trouble if they came down in an earthquake. I've never even seen any boats.

The people of Japan are in my thoughts.

March 14, 2011 at 4:02 PM  
li said, 

My childhood home was about 20 miles from the Three Mile Island Nuclear plant (which suffered a serious "event" in 1979), and I well remember how scared we all were; at one point, a hydrogen bubble formed and there was the potential for an explosion like the one in Japan. Luckily they vented it in time, but there was still a partial meltdown. Scary stuff, and this brings it all back. This post is also a reminder to treasure the time, people, and the things we have today, for no one knows what the future holds, good or bad.

March 14, 2011 at 4:15 PM  
Tracy said, 

I have some of the same feelings; I hate bridges, I despise high rises and don't ride in elevators; the closer I am to the ground, the happier I am. Who do we think we are imagining we can build a strong enough structure to sustain mother nature; aka God...really? If he thinks it's our time, well, not assurance put into place will save us from that...we are so high and mighty at time.
(sorry, just went on a little rant there...)

March 14, 2011 at 4:31 PM  
Clarissa Draper said, 

I'm really sad for the lives lost in Japan. I know they do design the building there for earthquakes but not for tsunamis.

March 14, 2011 at 9:09 PM  
Tabitha Bird said, 

My heart goes out to Japan, and Christchurch. Both who are suffering.
May stability find us all.

March 14, 2011 at 9:19 PM  
Jennifer Shirk said, 

Oh, I know. It's heartbreaking. I can't watch the news or see those videos anymore.
Actually, I think about that stuff a lot because I live on a bit of an island (in NJ) along the shore. There are three bridges to get in or out of town. ONCE the bay and shore met but people keep saying we're about due for another one. :(

March 14, 2011 at 9:28 PM  
Melissa Bradley said, 

Very thoughtful post and very much needed. My heart breaks for the people of Japan and I know all too well it could happen here. The condition of our infrastructure frightens me. I don't like staying above the 7th floor either, nor do I drive the limit on a bridge. My neighborhood here in Chicago is separated from the rest of Chicago and there are six bridges that attach us to the city. All, but one of the bridges is over 100 years old. The newest is over 60.
Thank you for this post. I'll be sharing this knowledge.

March 14, 2011 at 10:21 PM  
Duncan D. Horne said, 

Nice post. I also noticd you're signed up to the A-Z April challenge, as I am! Looking forward to that.

March 14, 2011 at 10:54 PM  
Ella said, 

Thanks for your expertise; It is heart wrenching to watch. My thoughts n' prayers are with them~
If we look at all that has happened, it isn't over, yet. There is a shift under us and I fear it will continue.
Alaska may be next...

March 14, 2011 at 11:05 PM  
Hilary Melton-Butcher said, 

Hi Jules - you make some interesting pointers .. I've never like high rises .. interesting thoughts.

I 'worry' about tsunamis .. the Caldera in the Canaries collapsing - that would send a tidal wave out across the Atlantic and into the English Channel .. and of course Yellowstone .. and if I was on the West Coast .. I'd be thinking .. "perhaps" ..

On the other hand we could be under a bus today .. thanks for sharing this .. it's sunny and I'm positive .. cheers Hilary

March 15, 2011 at 3:37 AM  
Glynis said, 

Thanks for an interesting post. My view is, if it is going to happen it will. Code or no code. Prevention is good and I am impressed with the way Japan are dealing with this disaster.

Sad, sad times.

March 15, 2011 at 6:08 AM  
Gail said, 

So true!

With all our little earthquakes in Arkansas, it makes you wonder if anything will stand.

I suspect the volcano that warms the springs at Hot Springs may be talking to us.

March 15, 2011 at 7:33 AM  
Amie Kaufman said, 

Wow, really thought provoking--thanks for sharing your expertise on this.

I spoke to a friend in Tokyo, who said that because his building was designed to withstand earthquakes, he felt swaying, but it all held together. I can't imagine the same could be said for all the buildings in my city.

March 15, 2011 at 7:54 AM  
Amy said, 

My heart goes out to Japan as well. Please don't apologize for the post. I loved it. I've always been leary of staying on high floors in buildings. And I hate stopping in traffic under bridges. I would rather wait for the traffic to clear and just pass under quickly. This is great info!

March 15, 2011 at 9:54 AM  
Talli Roland said, 

It's horrible what's happened in Japan. I'm stunned to hear that about building codes in the US! I've no idea what it's like here in the UK. I'm not sure I want to!

March 15, 2011 at 1:23 PM  
Debbie said, 

I realize we live in a false sense of security. And with everything running on computers, we couldn't even go to the store, if we were able to reach it, and buy anything!

March 15, 2011 at 8:02 PM  
The Words Crafter said, 

I think here in the US it's all about money and not wanting to part with it, even if it endangers people.

NC lies on a fault that makes the San Andreas look tame. If it ever shifts, we're in for it. In 1969, I think, there was a quake. I remember being small enough to hang onto my mom's leg as the ground shook. I can't imagine an 8.9 or 9....

You're totally right about our situation! Not a downer post at all!!!

March 15, 2011 at 9:54 PM  
Jayne said, 

Jules- I hear ya. I spent a lot of time in commercial real estate. I tend to fly over bridges (and through tunnels), too! The bridges and road in RI are a disaster. We need to push our local governments to spend wisely, and make sure infrastructure is safe for its citizens. Good post!

March 15, 2011 at 11:05 PM  
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