Return to index: [Subject] [Thread] [Date] [Author]

FEMA 273 vs DOE Seismic Safety Guide

[Subject Prev][Subject Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next]
On 5/22/99, Frank E. McClure, SE, [FEMCCLURE(--nospam--at)] wrote [under the
subject, Charles Greenlaw Response to "Unblocked Plywood Diaphragm
Deflection Calc."] :

>[F.M]  As I recall Satchel Paige is quoted as saying:  "Do not look back
>they might be gaining on you."  Is this the correct quote or did you have
>another quote in mind?

        [C.G.] Yes, that's the Satchel Paige principle. Something is gaining
on us, I gather. It appears to be dressed in elegant robes, and speaks in
strange chants. It means to control us, and make us completely dependent on it.

>[F.M.] Please do not apologize that you do not have a copy of  FEMA 273.
Keep >your innocence (virginity) and "just say No."
>If you like the 1997 UBC, you will love FEMA 273/274 and 310, a 
>"Prestandard."  What is a " Prestandard?"  It sound like a "Prestandard" is 
>like a drug that is available to the public that has not been completely 
>tested for approval by the Food and Drug Administration. 
>Seriously,  As I understand it, the University of California Systemwide has 
>designated FEMA 310 as the "de facto" standard for the evaluation of  
>University of California buildings.  FEMA 310 is the "Reader's Digest" 
>version of FEMA 273.  

        [C.G.] Here we go with U. of Calif. at Berkeley again... or should
we say it as "Berzerkeley"?  Geographically, the larger and politically
radical part of the campus is downhill from the Hayward fault, and the rest,
most of which is Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, is on the uphill side. In
Memorial Stadium, Cal rooters collect on the fault's uphill side, and
visitors sit on the downhill side. It looks like campus seismic philosophy
is similarly split, if the downhill portion is going with this political,
radical, and reportedly complex and error-riddled, FEMA standard for
evaluating campus buildings. 

        Split along the fault, because the upslope, LBL, side of UC Berkeley
has for several decades enjoyed the brightest, simplest, and most efficient
program and guide for evaluating existing buildings that I've ever seen. It
was developed in-house by LBL using local structural engineers as
consultants, and under Department of Energy auspices, beginning in 1971.
>From 1978, the Lab's chief structural engineer was none other than Frank E.
McClure, SE. The resulting Seismic Safety Guide was published in 1983 for
use by D.O.E. facilities everywhere.

        According to this guide's introduction, their avowed purpose at LBL
was to stay simple and practical so deficiencies could be promptly
identified and corrected "without falling into common pitfalls and prolonged
diagnosis." Results rather than elegance was the objective. Plant Manager
and guide author Donald Eagling, PE, said of the outcome they avoided,
"Often the approach to reviewing existing facilities for seismic safety is
so overly sophisticated that the actual abatement of obvious deficiencies is
delayed, costly, and often legalistic rather than objective." 

        Of the necessary skills and procedures, Mr Eagling said, "Structural
engineers who have observed and studied damaged buildings in the aftermath
of earthquakes are generally able to diagnose hazardous deficiencies in
existing buildings rather easily and efficiently. It is seldom necessary to
carry out elaborate analyses to evaluate the seismic resistance of
structures. The process of review does not have to be expensive or complex.
Often, the problems found in construction and design are simply the results
of failure to implement what has been known and observed about earthquake
engineering for years. [At Lawrence Berkeley Lab,] sophisticated techniques
were not required and in fact would have complicated and slowed the entire
process of detection, and consequently, correction."  The Lab openly guarded
against having the program's practical objectives get lost due to falling
down "the cracks between experts".

        This guide's text bears out their philosophy of sticking to the
basics in producing conclusions and corrective construction. Lord knows the
Lawrence Labs can get exotic when they want to.

         LBL program godfather and UC Berkeley structures prof emeritus Karl
V. Steinbrugge, SE, said in the Guide's preface, "It is my personal opinion
that the complexities of today's [1983's] most advanced analytical
techniques have outstripped the capabilities of the majority of structural
engineering's practitioners. While many can manipulate the mathematics, most
do not understand the the results in physical terms."

        Mr Steinbrugge adds, "In the eyes of many, the [cause of earthquake
disasters] is [a]'demon god', and to appease this 'god' an ever increasing
complexity of investigations, analyses, and design practices have been
served to [this 'god'] in the name of increased safety."  In effect, Mr
Steinbrugge metaphorically postulates the existence of a pagan seismic
safety religion. Let's run with some implications in this "seismic religion"

        Frank McClure, whose own "ecclesiastic" qualifications are pretty
solid, complains about his rocky acceptance into the new "order":
>I can hardly wait for the comments from the authors of FEMA 273/274 and 310 
>who will say I have "stepped over the line" again by raising questions 
>concerning FEMA 273/274 and 310.  I have tried to work within the FEMA 
>Committee System, that developed these FEMA Guidelines, to attempt to
>resolve many of the important questions and issues, but with little success.

        But look again at these modern FEMA and UBC appeasement rituals--
that "increasing complexity of investigations, analyses, and design
practices", and more recently the wholesale replacement of well-performed
parishioner response procedures with fumbling and unfathomable new seismic
safety incantations and gyrations. Don't these latest rituals actually serve
the special interests of seismic safety's high priests better than they
serve that "demon earthquake deity" itself?  And doesn't this pious new
gobbledegook serve that seismic priesthood better than it serves the
majority of structural engineering's "lay" practitioners who "do not
understand the results in physical terms"?

        No wonder Frank McClure's unconforming, insubordinate calls for a
simple, workable, well-proven version of seismic worship are so unwelcome
among this new, downslope school of big-time theologians.

        Common Cause founder John W. Gardner (PhD, UC Berkeley, 1938) quotes
Emerson that, "Once we had wooden chalices and golden priests; now we have
golden chalices and wooden priests," and adds, with respect to modern
institutions, that "we are forever building the church and killing the creed." 

Charles O. Greenlaw, SE
A disaffected lay parishioner