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Building earthquake-resistant structures in the Philippines

A powerful earthquake just shook Davao some days ago on January 21, measuring 7.0 on the scale. It was a good thing that there were no major damage or injuries reported, although an earthquake this strong could really cause some serious damage in structures that are not well designed or well constructed.

While no one can ensure that injury or damage will never happen due to a major calamity, what we—architects, developers, engineers—can do is to strictly comply with building regulations and apply the best practices for building safety and protection.

During an earthquake, a structure usually oscillates or swings backward and forward like a pendulum. Sometimes, vertical oscillation also happens. Well-designed and well-constructed structures must be flexible enough to move within the so-called elastic range.

Every country or location has a comprehensive plan based on the place’s susceptibility to earthquakes. Incorporated in this plan are various categories or scale and their corresponding building requirements for the guidance of developers, architects, and engineers. For example, an area within category 1 will require a different set of requirements compared to an area in category 5. The builder must comply with the requirements and meet certain standards for the particular area where the structure will be built.

In my experience, structures here in the Philippines are generally well done, following good construction methodology and complying with the local building regulations. As the country sits in the Pacific Ring of Fire, experience has taught the building construction industry how to build safely and how to design regulations appropriately. For example, local structures are often built using reinforced concrete wherein steel bars represent the flexible component, while the cement responds to compression or mainly carries the weight.

If you are a buyer or investor looking out to buy property, check that all building permits and documentation are in order as this can give you a guarantee that regulations and requirements have been met. Of course, buyers can do their own physical inspection, just keep in mind that some matters are best left to experts. For example, cracks on the walls do not always mean that the structure is poorly constructed. It could be a problem with the plastering or the gypsum board, and so on. Structural cracks in columns, beams, etc. are the real red flags.

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