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Analyzing Tsunami Forces to Develop Resistant Designs

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Gary Chock is the inspiration, driving force and leader of an American Society of Civil Engineers' committee that began work in January 2011 on a new addition to the society's engineering standards. The supplement will provide guidance for tsunami-resistant design.

 

Chock
The work was in its beginning stages when, on March 11, 2011, Japan was struck by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and an enormous tsunami that wiped out harbor defenses and laid to waste vast areas. Chock and the Tsunami Loads Committee immediately organized a team for a reconnaissance of the wreckage. The goal was to gather data that could be used to analyze the deformation of structures and materials assaulted by the deep, high-velocity water so that engineers could calculate the battering forces imposed. Understanding tsunami loads is key to improving designs to withstand them.

Chock's team was the first of seven ASCE investigative teams to reach Japan. Within six months, his team was circulating a 350-page draft report, filled with analyses and case studies of the debris. The final report now has been authorized for publication and should be available at the ASCE bookstore in April.

"On an engineering basis, we are determining the capacity of a building to withstand high-velocity tsunami flooding, which is quite different from riverine or even hurricane flooding," Chock says.

The data will feed into the standards-writing process, which will include exhaustive peer review before publication in early 2015. "It is an accredited, consensus-based process," says Chock. "It's not a beta version, trial version or preliminary guidelines. It has to have a lot of eyes on it to make sure it is right."

As a practicing professional with a six-person shop, Chock is given great credit by his team for donating so much of his resources to bring this about. The work is important. There have been three high-consequence tsunamis since 2004, and the Northwest coast of the U.S. is overdue for a seismic event comparable to the Great Japan Earthquake of 2011.

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