UWindsor researcher aims to avoid earthquake devastation before costly catastrophic event
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Canada sees more than 1450 earthquakes per year, and one University of Windsor researcher wants to minimize the damaging impacts large magnitude earthquakes may take.
Data published by Natural Resources Canada says earthquakes have been peppered throughout the country’s history and will inevitably occur again.
“The big one that everybody likes to talk about, it doesn’t happen very often. So, it’s easy to forget about the risk and the hazard that’s present,” says Niel Van Engelen, UWindsor assistant professor in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Van Engelen will focus his research on advancing seismic base isolation. A state-of-the-art approach to earthquake engineering that isolates a physical structure from strong ground movement.
“It’s all about taking steps before the earthquake happens to prevent the devastation, rather than responding to the devastation after it occurs,” says Van Engelen.
Van Engelen says more than half of Canada’s population lives in an earthquake hazard zone, predominately on the east and west coast, along with parts of Ontario and Quebec near the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Van Engelen adds that recent estimates of potential economic loss due to an earthquake in those regions could exceed $60 billion.
“If we can protect our buildings, if we can make them come undamaged through the earthquake, then the response to the event? Less losses. Less need for emergency response. Everything gets better if we can protect our structures,” he says.
Seismic base isolation involves a special layer of flexible devices, or isolators that are installed in the foundation of a structure. Van Engelen says the technology has been widely used around the world since the 2000’s, but that Canada lags behind countries like the United States, China and Japan.
The UWindsor researcher says only five structures in Canada have seismic base isolators, with plans to install them under Canada’s 100-year-old Parliament Centre Block.
“If you want the best chance of your building coming through an earthquake unscathed, then base isolation is definitely your best opportunity to accomplish that,” says Van Engelen.
The technology can be applied in seismic retrofits, according to Van Engelen, who says he would eventually like to see all buildings and structures in the country stabilized with base isolators.
His research recently received a $258,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the Ontario Research Fund. The Faculty of Engineering is also contributing $46,000.
“It’s extremely effective at protecting structures, normally an 80-90 per cent reduction in forces that the structure experiences so that’s extremely beneficial,” he adds.