Built According to Standards
Hindsight is 20/20, and hopefully the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan last March will prove to be more a valuable learning experience than a finger-pointing exercise. But already a report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in the first outside review of the nuclear meltdown, has criticized Japan for failing to take proactive measures to protect against a massive tsunami triggered by a high-magnitude earthquake.
From bridges to office buildings to nuclear power plants, California construction must also consider seismic activity. California building codes and construction standards do consider the threat posed by earthquakes and have done so for decades. But as science changes, our standards change, which is fine for new construction but often leaves existing construction behind. Los Angeles residents may recall the La Cienega bridge collapse following the Northridge earthquake in 1994. The La Cienega bridge may have been built according to the standards of its time, but newer bridges are built to newer standards, which take into consideration the improvement in science and technology which allows us to build better, safer structures.
No design yet is completely earthquake-proof or 100% safe; if such a design were possible it’s costs would probably make it too expensive to build. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect safety considerations to be at least as important as cost factors during design and construction. And whatever current standards are, it is reasonable to expect that buildings are constructed in compliance with those standards, with the care and competence customary in the industry. Whether an older structure should be renovated or retro-fitted may be a policy decision that depends on priorities and available resources. Is it negligence to leave an older existing structure unmodified, when it has fallen out of compliance with today’s standards?
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