UNIVERSITY buildings are strong enough to withstand the kind of earthquake that hit Haiti last January, but may have problem dealing with a Chile-like shock as far as “experience” is concerned.

Engineer Lawrence Pangan of the Facilities Management Office (FMO) said the buildings can handle intensity seven to intensity eight quakes, while the Main Building, the country’s first “earthquake-proof” structure, can bear up to intensity nine.

“With the innovation in engineering available, we can guarantee that new buildings like the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, Miguel de Benavides Central Library, Beato Angelico building, Thomas Aquinas Research Complex (TARC) and [the soon-to-rise] Sports Complex can last longer and endure future calamities,” Pangan said.

The newer buildings were built with the damage caused by the 1990 earthquake that hit Luzon at magnitude 7.7 as reference. It was the strongest earthquake to hit Manila.

“Adjustments in a structure’s groundwork and construction are based on this magnitude,” Pangan said.

This is the reason why intensity eight quakes are manageable, but UST may have problems dealing with the kind of tremor that hit Chile on February 27 at 8.8 magnitude.

“When a Chile-like earthquake hit UST, I am unsure whether our buildings, except the Main Building, can survive,” said College of Architecture Dean John Joseph Fernandez.

He specifically expressed doubt over the strength of new buildings like the Tan Yan Kee Student Center, TARC and the Multi-deck Carpark.

“But in terms of experience, old buildings have already withstood three major earthquakes—in 1968, 1973 and 1990. [However] new buildings are not yet ‘tested’,” Fernandez said.

While structures may withstand initial tremors of a Chile-like quake, aftershocks could be “scary.”

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Intensity seven earthquakes bring slight to moderate damage to well-built structures, while intensity eight causes considerable damage in ordinary buildings, parts of which may collapse.

An earthquake’s intensity is different from its magnitude. According to the United States Geological Survey website, magnitude refers to the strength of the energy felt at the “source” of the earthquake, while intensity is the strength of the shaking at a “certain location” caused by an earthquake. The higher the magnitude of an earthquake, the higher the probable intensity it can produce.

Building a building

Pangan said building a new structure in the University like the construction of the UST Sports Complex involves several processes, one of which is soil investigation.

“The type of soil is being observed and studied since Manila’s ground is not stable,” he said.

A construction method called board piling was used for newer UST buildings. The process involves the installation of foundations as stacked piles parallel to the ground, and drilling instead of hammering them to effectively resist earth movement.

“Board piling lessens structure vibration and helps avoid serious damage,” Pangan said. “[We are] assured that buildings, whether new or old, will remain stable.”

Fernandez said structural engineers also consider that tectonic plates usually move left and right. This was taken into account in erecting the Main Building in 1927, whose construction involved the expansion joint, and mat foundation processes. Expansion joints allow seam separation or the independent swaying of structures during earthquakes. Mat foundation extends the base of a structure over a great area, frequently the entire building, where all vertical structural loadings like columns and fixtures are supported by this common foundation.

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“This is why the Main Building only had superficial cracks on [its] walls after the [1990] earthquake, which were architectural in nature and not structural,” Pangan explained. “These cracks have already been remedied by injecting a certain amount of epoxy to the walls.”

He revealed that even the Main Building’s cross tower is still structurally stable, saying that rifts only appeared on the wall’s surface, not deep within.

“City building officials have actually issued a certificate, showing the stability and safety of our buildings here in UST,” Pangan said. “Our buildings’ structural components are not critically damaged, despite the appearance of some cracks.”

An ocular inspection of the Beato Angelico Building also revealed only superficial cracks, Fernandez said.

“Walls have been plastered and injected with epoxy, and remain very safe,” Fernandez said. “What is good with this building is that it has non-load bearing walls that support nothing. Meaning, regardless of visibility of cracks, ceilings and floors will not be affected, or [will not] collapse.”

Arts and Letters Dean Michael Anthony Vasco, for his part, assured students that the St. Raymund de Peñafort Building is still safe despite being built over half a century ago.

“Officials from FMO inspect our building periodically. The University will make it a point that structures are safe for Thomasians,” Vasco said.

But everyone must always be ready and know what to do in case an earthquake occurs. In the case of Artlets, Vasco has tasked professors Jose Tolentino Olivar and Dennis Coronacion as the faculty’s “crisis marshals” at the UST crisis management committee to help mobilize people during an earthquake, with the assistance of the Red Cross Youth Council. Similar moves have been taken by Architecture and the College of Fine Arts and Design.

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“[Fine Arts] Dean [Cynthia] Loza and I decided to redesign our building’s fire escapes per floor as advised by the city’s fire department,” Fernandez said. “And before the school year ends or early next school year, we are planning to perform an earthquake drill.”

Vasco also said Artlets would coordinate with the administration and concerned agencies to have quake drills.

The crisis management committee has issued guidelines in case an earthquake strikes UST. They are the following:

  • Drop to the ground; take cover by getting under a sturdy table or other pieces of furniture. Stay in that place until shaking stops. If there are no tables or desks near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in a corner of a buiding.
  • Stay away from the glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
  • Use a doorway for shelter only if it is near you and if you know that it is a strongly supported, load bearing doorway.
  • Stay inside until shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside the building attempt to move to a different location inside it or try to leave it.

Alexis Ailex C. Villamor, Jr.

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