Hey everyone I wrote down a slightly longer than expected synopsis of our trip with some of my thoughts and feelings. The trip is over but we will be posting pictures, edited videos, and possibly more professional style documents from our trip. Enjoy!
This trip was formed with a main goal of making ourselves more aware of an earthquakes effect on buildings, infrastructure, and culture. To say the least I have accomplished these goals.
I came into the experience with an appreciation for how well Chile performed against an 8.8M earthquake. We started the trip off meeting with Professor Ernesto Cruz. He along with two recent PhD graduates walked us through the basics of the 8.8M earthquake. They answered our introductory questions providing us a great starting point for our understanding of the earthquake. We then had meetings with Marcel Haristoy Padilla who worked for the Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo. He along with Eduardo Elsner gave us a history of engineering in Chile since 1960. Their wisdom was priceless as they walked us through how Chilean design has changed since the 1960 9.5M quake through to present day.
In a weekend excursion to Vina Del Mar and Valparisio the group was treated to a walking tour of damaged structures in the area, complements of Christian Schnaidt. Christian, one of Restrepo’s contacts, was able to show us a dozen buildings that had serious damage, many of which may have to be completely demolished. After working a few strings we returned to a building we had passed earlier and got an opportunity to view the inside of one of the buildings (thankfully there weren’t any aftershocks during this part of the tour). The walking tour had a huge impact on all of us as it was the first time we had seen modern structures show severe structural damage.
We returned to Santiago ready for more meetings. Our second week of meetings began with a presentation and tour of Chile’s tallest building, Titanium La Portada. After a presentation by Alejandra Troncoso the head PR agent for the building, we were able to sit and talk with Andres Weil the head architect of the building. It was an awesome experience to get an architects perspective on how building in an earthquake zone affects the relationship between an architect, engineer, and contractor. After our 52nd floor meeting we were taken down to see the energy dissipation devices used on every third floor which helped the tall building dissipate energy during the quake. The building had no structural or non structural damage. After further meetings with Sergio Contreras Arancibia and Rodrigo Mujica Vizcaya of the Colegio de Ingenieros de Chile and VMB Structural Engineering respectively certain flaws in the building process were highlighted.
Currently once an engineering student graduates they can go directly into the work force with the ability to sign off on their own plans. There is a second peer edit which is done by a certified professional however many of the people we spoke with believe an EIT, PE system would be helpful in preventing rookie mistakes from reaching the real world. An additional change suggested was to have a construction phased inspection process similar to the United States.
As for overall engineering/construction flaws that we saw there were a few common ones that were visible at nearly every damaged building. A lack of confinement in shear walls and columns allowed for interior concrete to be damaged as well as the buckling and fatigue of the lateral reinforcement. The minimal stirrup placement also lacked the 135o bends that Professor Restrepo has insisted is necessary in our concrete class. In the failed structural elements with 90o bends the stirrups had opened up during the shaking, exposing the interior concrete to severe cracking. A second issue seen in many buildings was poor placement of splices. In some cases not only were the splices performed in the first floor, but there was nearly no overlap distance between the spliced rebar. Seeing these mistakes over and over again has given substance to what we have learned in our civil sequence classes at UCSD. For the members of the group who are entering their senior year, having seen first hand these mistakes will be valuable in their ability to understand why the concrete code is the way it is, and why Professor Restrepo is so passionate about the issues discussed above.
The earthquake has also created an environment for Chile to invest in its emergency facilities (i.e. hospitals). A good percentage of Chilean hospitals are already on base isolation and these facilities performed perfectly in the 8.8M earthquake leaving structures in a fully functioning state after the earthquake. There were hospitals with the average shear wall design that did not have catastrophic failures; however the earthquake destroyed non structural elements (i.e. equipment) and left the place unusable. Unfortunately as seen in Chile and all the time in the United States nothing is done until after the earthquake. It is important that the US, California, and other nations like China and New Zealand use Chile as a case study. As the world becomes more globalized we have the opportunity to not only learn from our own mistakes, but as well as the mistakes of others. Events like Chile’s 8.8M should have ripple effects in places like California where a push is needed to place hospitals on base isolation equivalent damper systems.
On the trip we were given the opportunity to tour base isolation systems which all performed amazingly. So why not put everything on isolation? Well, it does cost more, and is worth it for structures like hospitals, but it can only be implemented on smaller structures, about five stories or less. For taller buildings we were shown energy dissipation components in the joints of structural elements as well as tuned mass dampers which are basically giant pendulums inside the structure. All these energy dissipation methods take the full force of the earthquake and absorb the energy so that the building only feels a fraction of the earthquake forces.
Our discussion and tours in Concepcion more than anything brought about an awestruck realization of how powerful an earthquake was. It tore apart reinforced concrete as if it was paper, and visiting failures where people lost lives gave off a vibe similar to September 11th in the states.
The human aspect of the trip was like none other. We have heard earthquake accounts from a wide range of people. Each time the room gets quiet and people’s eyes begin to express their stories, as cheesy as that sounds. I feel lucky to have had people open up to us with their stories. I am so glad that the people we have met viewed us as a blessing. Non engineers always ask our opinion of the earthquake, and are amazed that we have come to Chile because we are interested in them. Thank you to all our contacts and friends that have let us into their lives and who have given us their time and hospitality. There openness has changed me as an engineer and as a person.
I have always been a big believer of counting your blessings, but on a trip like this where I was exposed to poverty in Peru and tragedy in Chile it really brought home how lucky (I am)/ (we are). This renewal of understanding how lucky I have been for the past twenty two years of my life has recharged me to use abilities to help others feel this same sense of happiness and satisfaction. This leaves me in a state of soul searching, how do I do this? I am a recent graduate with the ability to travel anywhere or do anything, but I am unsure of which moves to make. Something I realized on this trip is there is still A LOT for me to learn in terms of civil/structural/construction. Knowing this has pushed me over the edge into a job search with a PE goal in mind. The world needs help now, but I’m not ready to offer thoughtful and creative solutions just yet.
I was hesitant to originally apply for this program as I didn’t know what was better for ‘the greater good.’ Being apart of this experience was the right choice as throughout my professional career I will keep applications to the developing world in the back of my head.
I can really get off topic; basically this experience has inspired me to work for knowledge which I then hope to apply later in my life to the developing world. Enough about engineering though, what I will remember is this family of ten and the people we have added to it along the way. So many memories have been captured on camera but it’s the little things about each person I will remember forever. I never went fifteen minutes on this trip without a laugh which is a testament to how good of friends I have become with everyone. We became a family that opened up to each other to discuss engineering, school, life or whatever. I think we all have left Chile with so much more to offer the world, and equally importantly a desire to continue to affect positive change through engineering and hard work.
A final thanks to all of our contacts, and especially the other nine of you who have made this trip entertaining to say the least.