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The Role of Structural Engineers in Disaster Resilience

Updated: Apr 28

Structures Insider - The Role of Structural Engineers

Structural engineers play a variety of roles in the planning, designing, building, and maintenance of buildings. One of these is ensuring that the building withstands a disaster. Whether it be severe weather, terrorism, or accident, engineers play a pivotal role in supervising the ongoing structural integrity of their creations in the face of a multitude of threats. Keep reading as we explore the diverse roles of structural engineers in disaster resilience. 


 

 

Risk Assessment and Mitigation

Public health and safety is a core component of a structural engineer’s role. They are constantly vigilant of potential risks. They must preempt threats before they escalate.


Just as they know their structure, engineers have an intimate understanding of associated risks. They will analyze historical data to develop a framework of potential threats. Collaboration with other experts is also key. Structural engineers consult with scientists, meteorologists, police, government leaders, and other engineers to increase their depth of knowledge regarding risk.


Perhaps the greatest tool at structural engineers’ disposal is technology. Software models can create stunningly accurate simulations of how buildings will perform in the face of thousands of random inputs. Engineers can use these simulations to refine and perfect their designs to optimally withstand threats. 


No matter how comprehensive the design, risk is never completely eliminated. Structural engineers constantly assess the likelihood that a negative outcome will occur. They must identify feasible and optimal actions in the event it does. They must have a plan in place for temporary emergency housing or shelter in case evacuation is necessary. High-level engineers should have a strong estimate for how quickly a facility can return to operations in the face of various disasters. 


Develop Innovative Design Solutions

Structures Insider - The Role of Structural Engineers

After assessing the likelihood of a disaster, structural engineers must design, build, and maintain accordingly. There are a number of cutting-edge materials that can help engineers execute the most disaster-resilient blueprints.


In earthquake-prone areas, steel-plate shear walls can help ensure that damage does not occur to a structure’s framing or foundation. Roof b-decking can provide additional shear support and guarantee that any forces that occur to the roof are transitioned to areas of the building that can accommodate greater loads.


Many parts of the country are experiencing severe drought. This puts them at heightened fire risk. There are fire resistant roofing options, such as metal, slate, and composite tiles, that can limit the risk. Steel and ICF framing are also known for their fireproof qualities. Insulation with high melting points are also an important fire protective measure. Mineral wool is a strong option in this regard. 


 

 

Extreme weather events are also occurring more frequently in the era of climate change. Hurricane-grade storm windows can withstand gale-force winds and keep the building envelope airtight. Architectural grilles and screen panels can limit the impact of projectile debris.


Ensure Compliance With Evolving Building Codes

Structures Insider - The Role of Structural Engineers

Structural engineers must stay ahead of evolving building codes. There are higher standards every year. Structures must minimize risk while maximizing safety to be code-compliant in most municipalities. 


One increasingly important factor regarding building codes is sustainability. Buildings must be able to withstand climate-related disasters. Engineers must show that their structures can not only function but do so while operating as close to net zero as possible.


There are specific codes regarding renovation. Most municipalities require proper permits before any structural remodeling can commence. Therefore, engineers are looking for streamlined ways to promote renovation. Building toward versatility and customization is key. Construction of open spaces that utilize fire rated glass partitions, sound insulation panels, and durable flooring that can withstand frequent reconfiguration to handle emergent needs is essential.


Cities also want to ensure that structures reduce the risk of economic disaster. Engineers need to create buildings that will hold their value over time. They should guarantee ongoing safety and functionality so the building has a positive economic impact on their market. 


Analyze Response and Recovery Scenarios

Structures Insider - The Role of Structural Engineers

Engineers have an ongoing role in the health of the building. Their job is not complete once the structure is operational. They play a critical role in the ongoing supervision of safety features.


For example, engineers constantly have to weigh fire dampers vs smoke dampers when assessing the ongoing health of the fire prevention plan. They must explore new technology and smart features and determine what is best for the structure moving forward. This often involves performing ongoing, real-time simulations to determine how the structure will perform in the face of evolving threats. If an event does occur, engineers must have a dynamic plan in place for “next steps” and how to most effectively get the structure operational again. 


Structural Engineers Are at the Heart of Disaster Resilience

Structural engineers play a critical role in guaranteeing the ongoing functionality and safety of buildings. One of the primary concerns in this regard is the structure’s ability to withstand a disaster.

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