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Roadbuilding | O H & S

April 21, 2010

ROB SIMPSON

The Chile earthquake caused the liquefaction of soil under an approach to a bridge.

After Haiti, Chile earthquakes, B.C. bridges monitored for seismic events

Seismic instrumentation for monitoring bridges and other structures is being installed in B.C. and an online system is being developed in partnership with Chile to plan how best to respond when critical infrastructure is damaged by earthquakes.

“I am interested in looking at the performance of schools, hospitals and the instruments that are used to measure ground motion in relation to the damage around those instruments,” said Carlos Ventura, a structural engineer and researcher at University of British Columbia (UBC).

“We are getting ready to have web-based tools fully operational to get data from various sites in B.C. Then we are going to send some instruments to Chile and, once they are connected to the Internet, we will get data from that system as well.”

As the director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Facility, Ventura has an interest in earthquake engineering, structural dynamics, instrumentation and structural testing.

Ventura was part of a Canadian Earthquake Reconnaissance Team that went to Chile in March for 10 days to see firsthand how various types of structures behave under seismic conditions.

“We have been exchanging information and knowledge on the issue of monitoring,” said Ventura.

“The next step is to start looking at how we connect information here with data in Chile. Chile has earthquakes, so we can use their data to test the tools we are developing here.”

Chile experienced an 8.8 Richter-scale earthquake and resulting tsunami on Feb 27.

“New technology and Internet-based data sharing has to be tested before it is released to the public,” said Ventura.

“The best way to do this is to use real data, which is why we are working with the Chileans.”

Before the earthquake in Chile, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and UBC were developing the BC Smart Infrastructure Monitoring System (BCSIMS).

This system uses strong motion instruments to measure ground shaking and provide maps on the Internet for emergency response.

BCSIMS “does a health run, which take a model of a bridge and looks at stress and displacement,” said B.C. Ministry of Transportation seismic engineer Sharlie Huffman.

“It generates new calculations after an event like an earthquake. But it doesn’t matter what is done to damage the bridge. If sufficient damage is done to structurally compromise the bridge, the instruments will pick it up.”

Huffman said the Chilean strong-motion-network is an older model that does not use the Internet. Data is retrieved over the phone or by going out to the site.

For this reason, BCSIMS is sending 10 instruments to Chile to see how they will react to an earthquake.

This data will be used to develp a post-earthquake prioritization and emergency response plan for B.C.

The B.C. system currently monitoring the WR Bennett Bridge in Kelowna, Queensborough Bridge, Second Narrows Bridge and the Pitt River Bridge.

The system is also installed at a handful of elementary and high schools.

Without a monitoring stystem, the only method used to inspect buildings after an earthquake is a visual response that checks for cracks or leaning.

In the future, BCSIMS will install a more comprehensive network that includes bridges, roads and pubic buildings such as hospitals.

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