From my experience in working among people in post-hazard environments, I can conclude that a stable house is the most prized possession. I have witnessed the grateful expressions of relief among those whose houses survived the tragic events. The contrasting near hopeless expressions of misery among those whose houses were destroyed were almost unbearable.
It was after my first deployment to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, that I finally understood that the primary purpose of an elected Government is to protect, as much as possible, the residents from foreseeable harm. It is for this reason why it is absolutely essential for each Government in the hazard prone Caribbean region to regulate the residential construction building industry in their country.
The Government of Barbados took the first step in trying to protect the public from certain post-hazard misery by publishing the Barbados National Building Code in 1993 [The Fire and the Fire Chief]. That was a commendable achievement because at that time, Barbados was experiencing an economic recession and political turmoil. Fortuitously, the national building standard was in place for the unprecedented building boom that would commence one year later, in 1994
It is a national disgrace that strains the limits of irresponsibility that the Government of Barbados, against all expert advice [The Construction Horror Show], allowed an entirely unregulated 14-year building boom with respect to building standards. Of the thousands of houses built, almost all of them are vulnerable to collapse in a major earthquake [Weapons of Mass Destruction]. It is to Barbados’ tragic misfortune that it would not have cost any additional money to have constructed the life-saving shear walls that the Building Code specified [Advice for Homeowners].
By 2010, the legacy of substandard residential construction was firmly established in Barbados [Happy Birthday Building Code]. At the start of that year, an earthquake in Haiti had reportedly killed approximately 300,000 people [In Defense of the Haitian Structural Engineer]. Near the end of that year, tropical storm Tomas examined Barbados and damaged over 1,500 houses. Following the visit, our Prime Minister reportedly made the following accurate observation: “I have to confess that I was flabbergasted at the fragility of the housing accommodation in Barbados.” [$37M Tomas Bill, Nation, 13 Nov 2010] He then reportedly recommended that it was “absolutely necessary to impose building standards in Barbados”, before adding the bewildering idea that a building code was “actively under consideration”. With such ministerial statements, a strong response was eagerly anticipated.
Approximately two years later, around the 20th anniversary of the initial publication of the National Building Code, the Government of Barbados took the strongest possible action unimaginable. Against expert advice, the Government abolished the only national standard designed to help builders construct a house that could survive earthquakes and hurricanes [Good Code Gone Bad].
This act of utter stupidity placed Barbados in the unenviable position of being perhaps the only country on the planet that did not provide some type of structural building guidance to its residents. Even in the poorest country in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a homeowner could have found more relevant building standards than in Barbados. It is a national shame to which our apathy only encourages our Government to act more irresponsibly, to depths formerly thought practically unreachable.
It simply does not make any sense! Why would a Government allow an unregulated building boom, despite repeated warnings of the fatal consequences? [Is This Explicit Enough?] Why would a Government, despite acknowledging the fragility of Barbadian houses, then withdraw the only national building standard that could protect Barbadian households, despite repeated warnings of the fatal consequences? Should Barbados experience the inevitable major earthquake tomorrow, then these two actions, in retrospect, would be justifiably deemed unforgivable.
When we stand inconsolably near the rubble of our child’s collapsed school, or when we learn that our loved ones died in the collapsed commercial building, that is not the time to ask how it could have happened. If you have read this far, then you already know how it happened. What you do not know is why, and Barbadians have a right to know, right now! why they are being led to an inevitable destruction.
The Government of Barbados is fully aware of the estimated losses. The United Nations assessed Barbados’ infrastructure in its Global Assessment Report (2013) and placed Barbados in its worst possible damage assessment category for earthquakes and hurricanes, with no upper limit on the amount of damage predicted. Recent seismic studies of Barbados (Salazar et al, 2013) have shown that Barbados is significantly more at risk to major earthquakes than predicted by the UN.
Based on the latest earthquake design parameters (Bozzoni et al, 2011), it can be reasonably assumed that all buildings with reinforced concrete floors in Barbados, that were built before 2011 and not updated to the current design standards, are expected to collapse during a major earthquake, killing most of the people inside. This includes schools, houses and commercial buildings. Unlike hurricanes, earthquakes normally strike without warning.
To reduce the risk of fatalities, Walbrent College has prepared a Home Strengthening Guide to economically strengthen sub-standard houses against earthquakes and hurricanes [Home Strengthening Guide]. It is freely available on the Internet.
Francesca Bozzoni, Mirko Corigliano, Carlo G. Lai, Walter Salazar, Laura Scandella, Elisa Zuccolo, Joan Latchman, Lloyd Lynch, and Richard Robertson, 2011. Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Assessment at the Eastern Caribbean Islands. Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America, Vol. 101, No. 5, pp. 2499 – 2521, October 2011.
Walter Salazar, Lyndon Brown, and Garth Mannette. Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Assessment for Bridgetown-Barbados, Employing Subduction Interface Characteristic Earthquakes. Journal of Civil Engineering and Architecture. Volume 7, No. 11 (Serial No. 72), pp. 1405-1422, November 2013.