Architects and engineers approach to building safety and protection has changed significantly since that fateful day Sept. 11, 2001.
We have learned that we are not only vulnerable to external calamities of earthquakes, fires and flooding, but also terrorists, vandals and just plain, mean people. There are lessons to learn for all of us.
The general assumption had been blast-containment was the most critical issue and that new buildings must have heavier fire and impact resistant exteriors to protect against all forms of mayhem, either human or nature inflicted. Now the focus is the need for safe and speedy evacuation during any emergency.
Every building, home or apartment should include extra precautions to ensure continued essential services.
Utility access to any building should be protected. Stairways and hallways should be well lit, with a battery back-up, and kept clear. Non-structural elements should be properly secured.
This is required by the building code but usually ignored by builders and homeowners. In even a light earthquake, a shaking bookcase can be a killer.
In the 2014 earthquake the Napa downtown Safeway building was severely damaged, but the ceiling tiles and cabinets were so loose, virtually the whole ceiling was on the floor. Cabinets were moved five feet or fell flat on the floor.
My house survived well but I lost two trash cans full of glass art off the shelves.
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The configuration and location of a building should minimize a vehicle ramming the entry or portions of the structure.
This may sound neurotic, but even Feng Shui, the ancient Chinese art of aesthetics and planning, believed a house at the end of a street is in jeopardy of evil spirits or thieves crashing into the structure. It just makes practical sense.
We live in an era of chemical and biological mayhem that can be caused by terrorist, vandals or stupid truck drivers. Home and building owners should check their most vulnerable entry: exterior air intakes or exhausts.
Every building draws air, usually at ground or eye-level, that we take for granted and is often available for dangerous admission. At the very least, make sure grade level vents are locked or protected by a heavy grate.
Probably the single best defense for a disaster is vigilance, keen observation and simple considerations.
Every home and building should have clear diagrams for exiting and how to respond in emergencies. There is no reason why young children can’t be educated how to get out of a building in an emergency.
The average life of most buildings is 50 years but they should be able to last 100. We need to think about resilience and sustainability for longer building life. There will most likely be an external catastrophic emergency requiring immediate evacuation in that lifetime.
There is no way to tell how safe is safe. Design tends to be a compromise between dreams, aspirations and economics, but when it comes to human safety, always take the high road.