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Oklahoma Isn’t Accustomed to Preparing for Earthquake Damage

Damage from an earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011.

Damage from an earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011.

Damage from an earthquake in Oklahoma in 2011.

Caroline Lee, Reporter

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Natural disasters are nothing new to America. With a land mass of 3.797 million square miles, the United States has had plenty of experience with tornados, earthquakes, tropical storms, hurricanes, droughts and dust storms.

Damage from an earthquake in Oklahoma this year.

In the most extreme weather hotspots, Americans have adapted their lifestyles in a way to best survive. These measures include ensuring their homes can withstand any and all types of environmental damage. In Oklahoma, the infamous category of extreme weather is tornado. Many Oklahomans have built their homes to be able to withstand winds up to 135 miles per hour, and Tulsa County enforces strict building codes that ensure the safety of its wind-blown  inhabitants.

When a tornado hits its alley, the alley fights right back. But now Oklahoma faces a new environmental issue: earthquakes.

Since 2009 the frequency of seismic tremors in Oklahoma state has increased in intensity and number. The strength of the earthquakes has even risen above a magnitude of 5.0 and the number of total earthquakes was 623 in 2016. Property damage has increased along with the rate of the quakes.

However, what may surprise many is that earthquake insurance rarely compensates for these losses. Only 1,136 claims have been acted upon out of more than 250,000 filed. Only 202 have been reimbursed out of this number, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department. If insurance doesn’t assist victims, property managers and homeowners have other options.

Below is a map of the location of earthquakes in Oklahoma. There isn’t much concern about quake damage in the city of Tulsa.

Tulsa County is relatively clear of the green and red dots indicating heavy seismic activity. Overall, municipal leaders don’t worry about damage in Green Country, at least for the next couple of decades.

Earthquakes aren’t making a significant impact on property values either; the housing market has increased in the Tulsa area sales, rising 14 percent year-after-year, according to Tulsa Realtor Cindy Henderson. Buyers haven’t been scared off by the increase in quakes and the danger that follows them.

Stricter building codes in new projects ensure that structures are sound. Rhett Morgan of the Tulsa World wrote an article on how these codes are put into effect.

The International Building Code applies to all types of new buildings, and the International Residential Code applies to new one- and two-story family dwellings and townhouses no more than three stories tall,” Morgan writes. “The International Existing Building Code serves as a rulebook for alterations and repairs or change in occupancy to those structures.”

Oklahoma engineer Elli Johannsson tells Morgan: “Buildings we’re designing now or have been for the last 20 years, I have not seen any damage to those at all. If the buildings are being designed to code, which they are, there is no change.”

Codes reassure the public about the soundness of dwellings, but the guidelines don’t apply to certain older structures, such as historic monuments and downtowns. Many large new public facilities in Tulsa County are built to withstand such quakes, but little is being done to strengthen edifices or residences 30 years or older.

“There is a lot of old stuff all over Oklahoma, not just Tulsa,” engineer Stacy Loeffler tells Morgan. “We don’t know what’s going to hit and we don’t know what building it’s going to be under or what bridge or what street. What science is telling me, considering what we’ve seen so far, is that new stuff I’m not concerned about at all. But with the old buildings, you just don’t know.”

Some buildings can be retrofitted to withstand greater amounts of force without collapsing. But not all edifices can receive the same type of reconstruction. Many buildings, especially in older downtowns, cannot undergo reconfiguration due to the weakness of their infrastructures.

Cutting-edge technology is progressing to secure engineering for buildings not meeting standards. In a research done by Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, foundations and structures can be reinforced with braces and fiber-reinforced polymers, fiber-reinforced concrete and high-strength steel. These alterations provide endurance to structures so they can withstand greater amounts of force.

Millions of dollars have been invested in the protection of  Oklahoma’s tornado traumatized buildings. Protecting any county from danger is priority on every city leader’s agenda. If earthquakes become a threat to Green Country,  Oklahomans can be assured that the preservation of vulnerable buildings will be a priority.

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Oklahoma Isn’t Accustomed to Preparing for Earthquake Damage