Published: Sept. 21, 2022 By ,

More than 1.6 billion people worldwide live in informally constructed houses, many of which are reinforced with concrete. Patterns of past earthquake damage suggest that these homes have significant seismic vulnerabilities, endangering their occupants. The characteristics of these houses vary widely with local building practices. In addition, these vulnerabilities are potentially exacerbated by incremental construction practices and building practices that address wind/flood risk in multi-hazard environments. Yet, despite the ubiquity of this type of construction, there have not been efforts to systematically assess the seismic risks to support risk-reducing design and construction strategies. In this study, we developed a method to assess the seismic collapse capacity of informally constructed housing that accounts for local building practices and materials, quantifying the effect of building characteristics on collapse risk. We exercise the method to assess seismic performance of housing in the US. Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico, which has high seismic hazard and experiences frequent hurricanes. This analysis showed that heavy construction, often due to the addition of a second story, and the presence of an open ground story leads to a high collapse risk. Severely corroded steel bars could also worsen performance. Although houses with infill performed better than those with an open ground story, confined masonry construction techniques produced a major reduction in collapse risk when compared to infilled or open-frame construction. Infill construction with partial height walls performed very poorly. Well-built reinforced concrete column jackets and the addition of infill in open first-story bays can reduce the greater risks of open-ground-story houses. These findings, which are quantified in the results portion of this article, are intended to support the development of design and construction recommendations for safer housing.

Murray, P., Feliciano, D., Goldwyn, B., Liel, A., Arroyo, O., and A. Javernick-Will. (2022). “Seismic safety of informally-constructed reinforced concrete houses in Puerto Rico". Earthquake Spectra. 10.1177/87552930221123085