Tag Archives: earthquake

Put Your House In Order

Dear Readers:

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.

Best regards,



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.

Weapons of Mass Destruction


One solution to reduce the vulnerability of your house is to have your foreman properly trained.  I now offer a training course that will lead to participants receiving the Diploma of Walbrent College.  See article on  Walbrent College for further details.

Regards, Grenville


President Bush is looking for weapons of mass destruction.  He need not look too far.  Anyone who has visited a construction site in Barbados would have seen them – you just have to know what to look for.

Observe this fellow as he proudly demonstrates how he is ensuring that the multi-storey building will collapse like a ‘house of cards’ during the first major earthquake, probably killing everyone inside.

The minimum safe bending radius for British Standard steel is 3 times the diameter of the bar for bars up to 20 mm.  Therefore, for the 12 mm diameter bar above, the bending radius should have been a minimum of 36 mm.

The problem is that the fellow is only using part of the bar bending equipment – the part that holds the bar in place.  The round former is missing.

Question: What bending radius is typically used in Barbados?  The answer: 3 mm.  No, I did not omit an integer.  The round former is rarely used.  3 mm is completely unsafe and will almost certainly fracture the bar, rendering the anchorage component utterly useless during an earthquake.

The next question is: how much more will it cost for the builder to bend the bar around a safe radius?  The answer: $0.00.  That is correct.  It will cost him absolutely nothing.

Bu..bu..but what about the extra time?

OK.  How much extra time will be spent bending the bar around the safe radius?  The answer: not one additional second!  That is correct.  It will not cost any more money, nor will he spend any more time.  You did not ask, but, it will not take any greater effort either.  Actually, it will be easier for the fellow to bend the bar around the safe radius than the unsafe one.

Why then are builders ensuring that our children will perish in school buildings, and parents will perish in office and public buildings during a major earthquake?  That answer is simple.  They simply do not know that they are building death traps.

Aw, c’mon now.  It’s not that bad.  You’re just exaggerating and being sensational.

Oh.  I am sorry.  Let me reconsider my response, refine my answer, and tone down my delivery.

Two Chinese men try to calm a man, center, as he cries over the death of his daughter near a school damaged following Monday’s powerful earthquake in Hanwang town in Sichuan province, China, Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Parents cry over the body of their daughter killed in the rubbles of a junior high school building destroyed by Monday’s magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Dujiangyan, southwest China’s Sichuan Province Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

A woman cries over the body of her daughter at the collapsed Xiang’e Middle School at the earthquake site in Dujiangyan of southwest China’s Sichuan province Tuesday , May 13, 2008.  (AP Photo/Color China Photo)

A Chinese man mourns as rescuer covers a dead student near a school damaged following Monday’s powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Hanwang town in Sichuan province, China, Wednesday, May 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

A woman mourns over the body of a student at the collapsed Juyuan Middle School at the earthquake site in Dujiangyan of southwest China’s Sichuan province Tuesday, May 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)

A Chinese man mourns the death of a student near the site of a school that collapsed in Juyuan, southwestern China’s Sichuan province, Tuesday, May 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A mother collapses after identifying the body of her child discovered from the debris of a primary school in Hongbai town in Shifang in southwest China’s Sichuan province Thursday May 15, 2008. (AP Photo)

These photos are disturbing, but they are real, and I wept as I inserted each of them.  China’s violently enforced one-child policy must increase the parents’ feelings of hopeless despair to immeasurable levels.  May they know the comfort that only God can provide.

The fractured reinforcement will be useless in a major earthquake, and all multistorey buildings that rely on them are expected to collapse during a major earthquake.

Why is our Government allowing builders to build death traps in Barbados?  Why is our Government allowing builders to build without having to comply with any building standards?

The only reason that I can come up with is that they are not looking in the right place when they jet off to China, where reportedly approximately 6,900 schools collapsed on thousands of students and their teachers during the recent earthquake.  I cannot be persuaded that our Government can see these images and allow the out-of-control building industry to continue in Barbados for one more day.

Over A Decade of Sorry Excuses

The building code is being revised.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

We need to have national consultations on the revised Building Code.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

The Building Authority is not set up yet.

That does not stop you from asking builders to comply with the existing Barbados National Building Code which was published in 1993.

The builders know what to do.

The inexperienced builders do not know that they do not know.  However, you know, but do not seem to care.  Why is that?

You Engineers are just being self serving and want more work for yourselves.

Generally, all of the technical advice normally offered by Architects, Planners, and Civil, structural, mechanical, and electrical Engineers are contained within the Barbados National Building Code.  Therefore, homeowners do not need to hire an Engineer for this advice.

We need to draft some more legislation.

No you do not!  Why are you so afraid of asking builders to build properly?  Good grief!



Related Article: Construction in China