Building Doesn't Collapse

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Infrastructure Doesn't Fail, Thousands Don't Die from Bad Water Supply...headlines you won't see because death and calamity prevail as top choices by the MSM. Yet, our infrastructure is appallingly weak and dangerous, but hey, Republicans just can't get hard about the idea of fixing the car.

Infrastructure Cuts Would Make the Unthinkable Unsurvivable

by: Allison Kilkenny, Truthout

broken.hydrant.jpgIt's no sec­ret that the nation's in­frastruc­ture is in dire shape. Last year, the American Society of Civil En­gine­ers gave US in­frastruc­ture a "D" rat­ing and specifical­ly brid­ges a "C," an average grade that might thrill medioc­re students, but in this case means 12 per­cent of the more than 72,000 brid­ges in the co­unt­ry are too old or "struc­tural­ly de­ficient." Ad­ditional­ly, ac­cord­ing to the As­socia­tion of State Dam Safety Of­fici­als, 4,400 dams are con­sidered sus­cep­tible to failure.

De­spite omin­ous warn­ings from the co­untry's en­gine­ers, in­frastruc­ture re­mains a thorough­ly un­sexy issue that causes peo­ple to nod off. Trans­por­ta­tion net­works and build­ings are th­ings we take for gran­ted - struc­tures that have al­ways and will al­ways be there. It isn't until in­frastruc­ture fails that we un­derstand they are mag­nifi­cent feats and begin to appreciate how much human ef­fort it takes to main­tain an ac­cept­able level of safety dur­ing our daily com­mutes.

The ftermath of the Japan earthquake conveys two tales: the nuclear infrastructure and also the story of the country's roads, bridges and buildings. One story has an abysmal ending, the other relatively successful. Despite the failure in Fukushima where reactors were built on an expectation that a 7.9 quake would be the maximum any plant in the area would ever experience - and apparently didn't account for the likelihood of an auxiliary tsunami - it appears as though Japan's overall infrastructure is holding together.

It should be emphasized that the over 10,000 missing people, deaths of thousands (and counting,) radiation exposure, over 100 crippled trains and the obliteration of entire towns all occurred in a rich nation best prepared for earthquakes. Japanese citizens participate in earthquake drills from early childhood, and buildings must adhere to the strictest of regulation codes. Structures are even made "earthquake proof" with deep foundations and shock absorbers designed to withstand seismic waves.

Conversely, Americans are woefully unprepared to deal with quakes. "Americans are not adequately prepared," says Yumei Wang, a geotechnical engineer in Oregon. "The Japanese have the most advanced preparations in the world." However, the biggest problem isn't that Americans are underprepared for a massive quake - it's that their infrastructure isn't ready.



Cer­tain groups like the con­ser­vative Heritage Foun­da­tion have seized on this mo­ment to ac­cuse Japan's in­vest­ment in in­frastruc­ture of some­how hav­ing failed be­cause many roads and Fukus­hima's nuc­lear facilit­ies could not with­stand a mas­sive quake and tsunami. Such critic­isms are silly, name­ly be­cause very few struc­tures on earth could with­stand the im­pact of a 9.0-magnitude quake and sub­sequent mas­sive wave, but that's no rea­son to forego re­gula­tion like Japan's rigor­ous safety stan­dards that saved even more citizens from being kil­led by col­laps­ing roads and build­ings.


By and large, [Japan's build­ings] pas­sed the grade. Those who were in Tokyo de­scribe see­ing skyscrap­ers sway and spin, some at an angle of 20 de­grees; oth­ers in­side the scrap­ers said they pitched and rol­led as if they were on the deck of a ship at sea. But the build­ings did not fall.

Of co­ur­se, "Build­ing Doesn't Col­lap­se" isn't a lead CNN is li­ke­ly to run with an­ytime soon.

Like Japan, Califor­nia has very strict build­ing codes that have been in place since the 1933 Long Beach quake that de­stroyed al­most all of the re­in­forced mason­ry build­ings, but even Califor­nia's strin­gent guidelines don't match the serious­ness of Japan's codes. For ex­am­ple, in 1971, Califor­nia's high over­pas­ses, where the 5 and 14 freeways meet, col­lap­sed and the cross-section's re­place­ment also fell in a 1994 quake. These kinds of events (caused by 6.6- and 6.7-magnitude quakes, re­spec­tive­ly) are hor­rific en­ough with­out add­ing the ele­ment of radia­tion leakage.

There are 104 nuc­lear power rea­ctors in the co­unt­ry with per­mits pend­ing for 20 more (13 states share the same Japanese con­tain­ment sys­tem). With­in the hot­bed of earthquake ac­tiv­ity in Califor­nia, there are two nuc­lear power plants. The owner of San Onof­re nuc­lear plant says there's no cause for con­cern, but his rea­son­ing sounds eeri­ly familiar. "The sci­ence says that we could see about five miles from the plant an earthquake, per­haps equal to a mag­nitude 6.5, 6.6," Gil Al­exand­er of Sout­hern Califor­nia Edison told "CBS News." "So we de­sig­ned the plant to ex­ceed the maxi­mum threat. It's de­sig­ned to with­stand a 7.0." [Em­phasis added.]

But what hap­pens when the Big One hits? The Pacific Northwest is "over­due [for a major quake]," warns geotechn­ical en­gine­er Wang of the Oregon De­part­ment of Geology and Miner­al In­dust­ries. Stud­ies in­dicate a 7.8 mag­nitude earthquake in Califor­nia could kill 1,800 peo­ple and de­stroy 300,000 struc­tures. In 2008, the of­fici­al earthquake forecast, known as the Uni­form Califor­nia Earthquake Rup­ture Forecast (UCERF,) pre­dic­ted Califor­nia has more than a 99% chan­ce of hav­ing a mag­nitude 6.7 or larg­er earthquake with­in the next 30 years and a 46% chan­ce of gett­ing hit with a quake of mag­nitude 7.5 or great­er in the same time span. Al­exand­er would have been bet­t­er off say­ing: We're about half sure these plants will still be here in the next few de­cades.

Oregon's Sen­ate Pre­sident Peter Co­urtney says his state is not pre­pared for a Japanese-style quake. "The whole val­ley will shut down. You'll lose brid­ges. You'll lose build­ings. You won't be able to get peo­ple in and out of health facilit­ies, hos­pit­als. If it's dur­ing the daytime and kids are in school, in­clud­ing Oregon State, Lord knows the numb­er of peo­ple who are going to be in­jured or kil­led. The mag­nitude of this is be­yond de­scrip­tion. We are not pre­pared," he says.

In 2007 the state re­leased a re­port on the need for seis­mic retro­fitt­ing in Oregon. James Rod­dey of Oregon De­part­ment of Geology and Miner­al In­dust­ries says it wasn't opt­imis­tic.

James Rod­dey: "Half of all of the schools in the state were at high, or very high risk of col­lap­se and to a much less­er de­gree the police sta­tions and fire sta­tions were at risk."

So that's about 1,500 school build­ings at risk.

Rod­dey hopes to have all of Oregon's schools, fire sta­tions and police sta­tions retro­fit­ted ... in 25 years.

As the co­untry's net­works of roads and brid­ges age, America is simul­taneous­ly ex­perienc­ing a harsh era of aus­ter­ity. Meanwhile, the pre­sident has cal­led for the co­unt­ry to "live with­in its means" at the same time he pro­poses in­vest­ing in in­frastruc­ture. Pre­sident Obama pro­posed $50 bi­ll­ion to upgrade nation­al in­frastruc­ture and yet he brags about meet­ing Re­pub­licans "halfway" on pro­posed bud­get cuts - cuts that will make his kind of vis­ion for growth im­pos­sible.

The pre­sident ap­pears pre­pared to humor the GOP's dys­topian vis­ion for the fu­ture even though a dol­lar "saved" on not main­tain­ing or up­dat­ing in­frastruc­ture is ac­tual­ly a dol­lar was­ted. As The Was­hington Post re­ports, "it's cheap­er to strength­en a brid­ge that's stand­ing than re­pair one that's fall­en down."

Rep. Jerry Co­stel­lo (D-Illinois) ec­hoes that sen­ti­ment in The Hill:

[I]t is es­timated that every $1 bi­ll­ion in­ves­ted in nation­al in­frastruc­ture creates 35,000 jobs and generates $6.1 bi­ll­ion in economic ac­tiv­ity.

The fis­cal­ly re­spon­sible thing to do in this case is in­vest in in­frastruc­ture. Yet, the cacop­hony for cuts has rea­ched such a fren­zied level that Sen. John Kerry was re­cent­ly for­ced to bypass the aus­ter­ity craze with a pro­pos­al for legis­la­tion to create an in­frastruc­ture bank that would pro­vide loans for large build­ing pro­jects. The I-bank is de­sig­ned to skirt Was­hington's para­lysis in order to re­turn to a time when Americans built th­ings.

Bud­get cuts are nor­mal­ly al­ready pain­ful for poor and vul­ner­able Americans, but in­frastruc­ture aus­ter­ity thrusts as­cetic measures onto mas­sive struc­tures that sup­port, carry and con­tain mill­ions of Americans every day. These de­cay­ing giants sur­round us, and it's the duty of the govern­ment to main­tain and im­prove such struc­tures.

One of Pre­sident Obama's stock lines on the cam­paign trail was his sup­posed re­fus­al to "kick the can down the road," but by re­fus­ing to care for the nation's in­frastruc­ture, that's pre­cise­ly what he's doing. Par­ticular­ly, the Obama ad­ministra­tion leaves the co­unt­ry vul­ner­able to cat­astrop­he in the event of a Japanese-level quake.

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This page contains a single entry by cul published on April 3, 2011 2:47 PM.

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