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Quake Centre Director, Robert Finch discusses his highlights from the 2016 SPONSE International Workshop.


The ‘new frontier’ of earthquake engineering


Buildings’ core structures are withstanding greater intensities of shaking than ever before. It is, however, the objects inside buildings – things like pipes and air conditioning ducts - which cause greater injury and financial loss. In the ever-evolving field of earthquake engineering, the time has come for the health and safety risks of non-structural elements to be addressed – before lives are lost.


SPONSE (the International Association for the Seismic Performance of Non-Structural Elements) President and Professor of Structural Engineering at both the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the Institute of Advanced Study in Pavia, Italy, Andre Filiatrault, explained, “If we look at the state of practice in terms of the seismic design of non-structural elements, we’re 50 years behind where we are with structural elements. We have spent a lot of effort to make our buildings – especially new buildings – quake resistant, but we haven’t done the same thing at all for what’s inside the buildings.”


While structural construction undergoes rigorous testing under New Zealand standards, non-structural work is often completed by subcontractors – slipping under the radar without an abiding inspection process.


Professor Filiatrault, visiting UC for the third international SPONSE workshop, believes non-structural systems are “the next frontier of earthquake engineering”, and that this year’s SPONSE workshop - hosted by UC’s Quake Centre - will lead the way towards “developing the knowledge necessary for understanding how these systems behave”. 


Over 80 architects, regulators, practising engineers and researchers participated in the SPONSE workshop, which brought theory and practise together to work on developing non-structural construction standards, a method of educating practitioners about these standards and protocol for their monitoring.


Director of UC’s Quake Centre, Robert Finch said the problems communicated by industry practitioners fit the same clear and consistent message, “We need to pay attention to compliance and implementation when it comes to the installation of non-structural elements. Both tradesmen and the design/construction team know the codes, but each believes the other is taking responsibility. These gaps in coordination need to be closed to ensure that standards are adhered to and all buildings are fully compliant.”


He believes SPONSE has the resource to initiate closing this gap, and doing so would result in significant improvement to seismic performance of buildings in New Zealand, something the association would be proud to be involved with.


SPONSE is an international, non-profit, technical society which aims to contribute to the improvement of communities’ resilience to earthquakes. Through membership, education and promotion/distribution of research findings, it brings together industry, academia and anyone interested in the seismic performance of non-structural elements. Their workshops focus on promoting communication and facilitating synergy between international researchers and practitioners working in the non-structural element area.


Founding member of SPONSE and Structural Earthquake Engineer at UC, Professor Rajesh Dhakal summarised the success of this year’s workshop, “We should be proud that we’ve completed the first step towards resolving this issue - bringing different cohorts under one roof to listen to each other’s perspectives. We’ve discussed problems faced on the ground by practising engineers, and we’ve seen the solutions that researchers are working on – it has brought these skill sets together. This is just the beginning, we’re now in the right mindset to solve problems.”














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