Protection Against Hazards

A hazard poses the threat that an unwanted event, possibly a catastrophe, may occur. Risk is the probability that the event will occur. Inasmuch as all buildings are subject to hazards such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flood, fire, and lightning strikes, both during and after construction, building designers and contractors have the responsibility of estimating the risks of these hazards and the magnitudes of the consequences should the events be realized.

Risk Management

After the risk of a hazard has been assessed, the building designers and contractors, guided by building-code, design standards, zoning-code, and health-agency specifications and exercising their best judgment, should decide on an acceptable level for the risk. With this done, they should then select a cost-effective way of avoiding the hazard, if possible, or protecting against it so as to reduce the risk of the hazard’s occurring to within the acceptable level.

Studies of building failures provide information that building designers should use to prevent similar catastrophes. Many of the lessons learned from failures have led to establishment of safety rules in building codes. These rules, however, generally are minimum requirements and apply to ordinary structures. Building designers, therefore, should use judgment in applying code requirements and should adopt more stringent design criteria where conditions dictate.

Such conditions are especially likely to exist for buildings in extreme climates or in areas exposed to natural hazards, such as high winds, earthquakes, floods, landslides, and lightning. Stricter criteria should also be used for buildings that are tall and narrow, are low but very large, have irregular or unusual shapes, house hazardous material or critical functions, or are of novel construction. Furthermore, building codes may not contain provisions for some hazards against which building designers nevertheless should provide protection. Examples of such hazards are vandalism, trespass, and burglary. In addition, designers should anticipate conditions that may exist in buildings in emergencies and provide refuge for occupants or safe evacuation routes.

Building designers also should use judgment in determining. the degree of protection to be provided against specific hazards. Costs of protection should be commensurate with probable losses from an incident. In many cases, for example, it is uneconomical to construct a building that will be immune to extreme earthquakes, high winds of tornadoes, arson, bombs, burst dams, or professional burglars. Full protection, however, should always be provided against hazards with a high probability of occurrence accompanied by personal injuries or high property losses. Such hazards include hurricanes and gales, fire, and vandals.

Structures containing extremely valuable contents or critical equipment justifying design for even the most extreme events may require special hardened rooms or areas.

Design Life of Buildings

For natural phenomena, design criteria may be based on the probability of occurrence of extreme conditions, as determined from statistical studies of events in specific localities. These probabilities are often expressed as mean recurrence intervals.

A mean recurrence interval of an extreme condition is the average time, in years, between occurrences of a condition equal to or worse than the specified extreme condition. For example, the mean recurrence interval of a wind of 60 mi/ hr or more may be recorded for Los Angeles as 50 years. Thus, after a building has been erected in Los Angeles, chances are that in the next 50 years it will be subjected only once to a wind of 60 mi/hr or more. Consequently, if the building was assumed to have a 50-year life, designers might logically design it basically for a 60-mi/hr wind, with a safety factor included in the design to protect against low-probability faster winds. Mean recurrence intervals are the basis for minimum design loads for high winds, snowfall, and earthquake in many building codes.

Safety Factors

Design of buildings for both normal and emergency conditions should always incorporate a safety factor against failure. The magnitude of the safety factor should be selected in accordance with the importance of a building, the extent of personal injury or property loss that may result if a failure occurs, and the degree of uncertainty as to the magnitude or nature of loads and the properties and behaviour of building components.

As usually incorporated in building codes, a safety factor for quantifiable system variables is a number greater than unity. The factor may be applied in either of two ways.

One way is to relate the maximum permissible load, or demand, on a system under service conditions to design capacity. This system property is calculated by dividing by the safety factor the ultimate capacity, or capacity at failure, for sustaining that type of load. For example, suppose a structural member assigned a safety factor of 2 can carry 1000 lb before failure occurs. The service load then is 1000/2 =500 lb.

The second way in which codes apply safety factors is to relate the ultimate capacity of a system, to a design load. This load is calculated by multiplying the maximum load under service conditions by a safety factor, often referred to as a load factor. For example, suppose a structural member assigned a load factor of 2 is required to carry a service load of 500 lb. Then, the member should be designed to have a capacity for sustaining a design load of 500 x 2 = 1000 lb, without failing.

While both methods achieve the objective of providing reserve capacity against unexpected conditions, use of load factors offers the advantage of greater flexibility in design of a system for a combination of different loadings, because a different load factor can be assigned to each type of loading in accordance with probability of occurrence and effects of other uncertainties.

Safety factors for various building systems are discussed in following sections of the book. This section presents general design principles for protection of buildings and occupants against high winds, earthquakes, water, fire, lightning, and intruders.

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