Building for disaster

Over 100 international delegates, academics, experts and researchers from 22 different countries participated in a three day symposium hosted by the Department of Building and Civil Engineering of the University of Malta. This event marked the second phase of an International Technical Action involving co-operation in the field of scientific and technical research, supported by the European Commission research arm under FP7 funding. The main objective of the Action is to increase the knowledge of the behaviour of constructions in urban habitat under catastrophic events, when exposed to extreme events arising from earthquakes, fire, wind, impact, explosions etc., in order to predict their response when both the applied loading and the inherent structural resistance are combined in such a way as to reduce the safety level below acceptable values, leading in some cases to a premature collapse.

 

Safety in structures can drop below acceptable levels, when built-in resistance cannot withstand an extreme event. Extra load applied to a structure during a natural or man made disaster can lead to collapse. Good planning and risk management and governanace predicts the response of a structure under extreme conditions and prevents its untimely collapse. The symposium was organized by Architect and University lecturer Ruben Paul Borg who launched a book entitled Urban Habitat Constructions Under Catastrophic Events, which is supported by the European Science Foundation. The book contains important contributions, including data sheets on the latest research in the field. During the symposium, keynote speakers presented contributions on the seismic rehabilitation of buildings, the design of high-rise buildings to survive terrorist attack, catastrophic events in bridge and wind engineering, catastrophic scenarios of volcanic eruptions, the seismic risk posed to buildings in Malta, and risk management. Although earthquake activity in Malta is generally of small scale incidents, the occurrence of large scale events, as well a historic earthquakes in the Mediterranean basin indicate that due attention should be given to the seismic risk posed to buildings in Malta. One of the papers presented during the symposium addressed risk in terms of seismic hazard and building vulnerability due to common defects in construction by the Maltese construction industry. The authors commented that uncertainty about seismic hazards and the lack of a national data base thereon has led to uncertainty in the design process. The authors stressed the need for a seismic hazard assessment of the Maltese islands, including the assessment of the vulnerability of buildings. This would provide the basis for a national data base to which architects and engineers could refer.