From ACEC Florida President Scott Martin, PE, LEED AP, DBIA
To the ACEC Florida Community,
Every February 1st, I know a few things are in store over the next four weeks. My son, sister, and I will all turn another year older, some groundhog in Pennsylvania will tell the country whether winter is sticking around (and Floridians won’t care since it’s already 80 degrees), and it’s the time of year to celebrate both Black History Month and Engineers Week (E-Week occurring February 19-25).
In the current climate of increasing culture wars, I intended to spend some of my message this month reflecting on the progress we as a society and a species have made towards awareness and appreciation of the diversity of others’ cultures; and emphasizing the importance of building on that knowledge rather than reversing it as some activists and lawmakers seem determined to do. However, with the daily updates describing the aftermath of the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, it’s difficult for me not to recognize instead how similar events have unfolded in the U.S. in years past and the vital role engineers must continue to play in protecting the health, life, and safety of the public.
On Monday, February 6th, two earthquakes with magnitudes of 7.8 and 7.6 struck southern Turkey close to the border with Syria. As of February 10th, officials estimate that close to 7,000 buildings collapsed, and over 25,000 people have been confirmed dead so far. Significant earthquakes in that part of the world are not unexpected, and just like in this country, building codes have been improved after previous disasters to protect the public.
The Izmit earthquake killed over 17,000 people when it hit Western Turkey in 1999. In response, the Turkish government not only improved their seismic design codes but, in 2008, began an ambitious project to make every building in the country “earthquake safe by 2035.” This would impact not just new construction but the millions of existing buildings and residences throughout the country.
Most buildings that collapsed on Monday were constructed before 1999, but many others supposedly built to new codes also failed. Poor enforcement of the seismic codes and the government’s own amnesty program, which for a fee licensed any building constructed before 2017, whether it was built to code or not, severely undermined the initiative to make Turkey’s buildings safe for the public. It has been estimated that the 13 million structures legalized under the amnesty program netted the Turkish government $3 billion in fees. It may not be known how many of these buildings are still standing for some time.
Turkish engineers, urban planners, architects, and scientists warned for years that poor enforcement of code standards would cost lives. In one article I read this week, Sinan Turkkan, a civil engineer and president of Turkey’s Earthquake Retrofit Association lamented that had the government and local authorities listened to design professionals, properly implemented earthquake design regulations, or banned construction directly on active fault lines, “we could have saved at least 5,000 of the buildings that we lost on Monday from complete destruction. We could have saved many, many lives.”
It’s difficult to say how many buildings built to any code in any country could withstand back-to-back seismic events of the magnitude Turkey experienced this week, but engineers of every nationality remain crucial advocates for public safety to lawmakers and government officials. Engineers are critical to ensuring building codes reflect the best of current human knowledge, lawmakers enact policies that make those codes enforceable, and local jurisdictions enforce those codes and guidelines.
It often takes a tragedy to get the majority united around making change. Let us all make sure the lessons learned from this month’s Turkish earthquakes, the devastation from Hurricane Ian, and the Champlain Tower collapse result in the changes to codes, laws, and enforcement needed to better protect the safety of all Floridians.
Scott D. Martin, P.E., LEED AP / Principal
Design-Build Market Leader
Walter P Moore
201 East Kennedy Boulevard, Suite 700
Tampa, Florida 33602-5823
813.275.8112 p / 727.642.6212 c
email@example.com / www.walterpmoore.com