San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Updated Seismic Code to Mitigate Damage

EARTHQUAKE experts are stillexpecting “the big one” in Costa Rica, butthey hope the newly revamped seismiccode will help minimize the effects offuture tremors on buildings here.Beginning last weekend, all new constructionmust follow the new code, updatedfrom a 1986 version. The revised versionis based on recent experiences inCosta Rica as well as global advances intechnology, according to Irene Campos,president of the Federated Association ofEngineers and Architects (CFIA).The changes make Costa Rica’s seismicregulations some of the most advancedin the world, according to CFIA engineers.“We are able to introduce changesquickly. Other countries are just starting todo what we have done,” said JorgeGutiérrez, president of the permanentCommission on the Study and Analysis ofthe Seismic Code. “In the United States,for example, it’s a lot more difficult. Thelarger a country, the harder it is to introducechange. There is more resistance.”SPECIALISTS have learned a greatdeal from the earthquakes that rocked thecountry in 1990 and 1991, according toCarlos Montero, director of theVolcanological and SeismologicalObservatory of Costa Rica (OVSICORI),at Universidad Nacional (UNA). OVSICORIseismologists helped update thecode, along with university engineers andbusiness representatives.The new code also incorporates techniques,materials and designs used in othercountries.“(The new code) is not a drasticchange, but rather it is an evolution,”Gutiérrez said.One of the main differences is that thenew code acknowledges variations in thefunctions of different buildings. Therequirements are not the same for a hospitalas for an apartment building, forexample.“A hospital must remain completelyintact, you don’t want even the windows tobreak,” said CFIA spokeswoman AnaCristina Rojas.The code also includes a table of dataon seismic demand, which shows theexpected effects of an earthquake on a certaintype of structure, in a certain zone, ona certain type of soil.The new rules will not cause a hugeincrease in cost, Gutiérrez said. Researchby students at the University of CostaRica’s school of engineering estimates therise in construction cost will be 1.3-3.8%,depending on the type of building.Montero said the cost is not too highfor the security the regulations will bringto residents. Because of the country’sseismic code, Montero maintains CostaRica would not have suffered the samedestruction El Salvador did in January2001 from a magnitude 7.6 earthquake(TT, Jan. 19, 2001). Nearly 150,000homes were destroyed and 185,000 damaged,according to the U.S. Agency forInternational Development.HOWEVER, he added, regardless ofconstruction, high concentration of buildingscan have devastating effects if anearthquake hits. Despite advanced technologyin the field, high density resulted in thenear leveling of Kobe, Japan, in a 1995earthquake, he said.“Building regulations can reduce theeffects of what happens, but it is neverenough to stop it,” he said.Costa Rica’s code was actually updatedin 2002. It was published in the officialgovernment newspaper La Gaceta on Dec.26, 2003, providing a six-month noticebefore going into effect.In anticipation of the changes, somebusinesses have already adapted their plansin accordance with the code.“For us it is really not a big change.Our latest designs already come with thenew code,” said engineer Christian Mapa,project manager for Fomento Urbano,which develops houses and condominiums.

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