When I was a teenager growing up in St. Louis, I experienced an earthquake one Saturday morning. I recall waking from my sleep, but have little recollection of any significant damage.
Since that day, I've had a keen interest and respect for how geology affects our lives. I particularly focused on stories about the series of earthquakes that hit the New Madrid areas in 1811 and 1812. And because of this respect for plate tectonics, I kept my kids home from school when a well-known, or should I say, well believed expert predicted the precise date for the next earthquake in the 1980s. Of course, it never happened.
But we shouldn't dismiss seismic concerns just because they don't happen in ways that directly affect us. We only have to recall the sobering images from central Italy showing the effects of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. The L'Aquila earthquake on April 6 all but leveled several medieval hill towns in the region, killing more than 260 residents, injuring 1000, and leaving 28,000 homeless.
The world's opinion of masonry often takes a hit when these earthquakes happen. The news reports are filled with hundreds of dramatic images showing piles of rubble from the former buildings. Then news reporters search for blame and begin to attack either a contractor's shoddy workmanship and/or poor material quality. There are few mentions of the real causes. Many structures are built in areas with poor code enforcement. And few owners are willing to pay for the necessary seismic upgrades.
Fortunately, our industry leaders have taken a proactive role to prove that masonry construction is a safe building system in seismic zones. On page 28, we report on a recent research project in California.
When you visit our Web site to view the video of the shake table, remember this: The vibration level exerted onto the test building was about 1.6 times stronger than the earthquake in Italy. Statistically, there's very little chance such a strong event can happen in the next 2500 years.
This excellent project could not have come at a better time. In April, the Mason Contractors Association of America and the National Concrete Masonry Association announced plans to work together in marketing masonry's advantages. It's a move that will definitely bring more work to our industry. I'm certain that each call on architects, engineers, and potential owners will include playing the seismic research project video.
While times are tough right now, investments in research, marketing, and quality will ensure our industry's future growth.