Is it time for building codes to be reviewed?

What a relief it was to learn that the tsunami threat posed to artificial offshore islands in the Gulf is minimal. The news emerged from the Arabian Coast 2005 conference, sponsored by Nakheel, developer of the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira and the collection of 300 offshore islands collectively known as The World.

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By  Sean Cronin Published  December 3, 2005

|~||~||~|What a relief it was to learn that the tsunami threat posed to artificial offshore islands in the Gulf is minimal. The news emerged from the Arabian Coast 2005 conference, sponsored by Nakheel, developer of the Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali, Palm Deira and the collection of 300 offshore islands collectively known as The World. So, nothing to worry about there then. Unfortunately the assurance coincided with an earthquake in Iran, which sent shockwaves through the UAE and led to the evacuation of several buildings. It is also approaching the anniversary of the tsunami that claimed more than 200 000 lives across Asia on 26th December 2004. These two events have got everybody thinking about whether the buildings they live and work in, are capable of withstanding an earthquake. Happily, within the GCC at least, the answer to that question is probably ‘yes’. But it never pays to be complacent and there are design issues to be addressed both onshore and off. Clearly, the threat from wave surges or tsunamis needs to be fully understood by the designers of any offshore structures where people live. The fact that the enclosed geography of the Gulf means that the risk is relatively minor, should not lull us into a false sense of security. UAE-based geologist Dr Benjamin Jordan told this week’s Arabian Coast conference that the potential for small tsunamis and typhoon surges does exist in the Arabian Gulf. Indeed, one occurred in February, which resulted in the sinking of a barge in Hamriya Port. Experts who have spoken to CW say the design of breakwaters is particularly important in mitigating the impact of freak waves. Onshore, the threat posed by seismic activity relates largely to older buildings that were built prior to the introduction of existing building codes. Another UAE-based academic, Dr Azm Al Homoud, professor of civil engineering at the American University in Sharjah, says that pre-1990 buildings in the UAE may be at risk. With seismic activity in the region increasing in recent weeks and with the anniversary of the Asian tsunami approaching, it may be a good time to take a long hard look at whether new buildings under construction throughout the region are truly capable of withstanding the forces of nature. Sean Cronin Editor||**||

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