As a newcomer to the AEC industry, my knowledge of earthquake awareness prior to joining Reid Middleton was limited to drop, cover, and hold on! Over the past two years, I have been fortunate to work with a team of engineers who are passionate about seismic resilience and I have watched them perform seismic advocacy efforts across the globe. About six months ago, I had the opportunity to coordinate our proposal and interview efforts for a project that would let us share our expertise closer to home. We were selected for the project and I had the chance to see all of the background efforts – as well as the actual engineering – that made the project possible.
School’s Out and Engineers Go Back in the Classroom
Many of Washington State’s K-12 schools are located within high to very high seismic hazard zones and many may need seismic retrofits to withstand the potential quaking. The Department of Natural Resources and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction needed to assess the seismic safety of schools throughout the state and selected the Reid Middleton team to perform this project. Between June and September, while students were enjoying their summer vacation, our team of engineers performed seismic evaluations of approximately 220 K-12 school buildings and five fire stations throughout Washington State.
A Team Effort
To coordinate the efforts of our team of four structural engineering firms, two architectural firms, and one cost-estimating firm, we dedicated a conference room solely to this project throughout the summer. When walking past that room on my way to other meetings, I could see a huge map of Washington on the wall had color-coded push-pins for each school that indicated which firm would perform the evaluation. I learned that the team held weekly project update meetings on Tuesdays and if I needed to track one of them down, I could usually assume that they would be in the office on Tuesdays.
Within Reid Middleton, everyone has been a part of this project in some way; from the engineers, to Visual Communications, to Admin staff, to our Marketing group. I overheard our engineers speaking to a developer who created a mobile app so that data from the field could be easily recorded and streamline the process of creating reports for each school. How do you examine building plans for structures that were built before everything was recorded electronically? Well, I learned school districts often can’t just send you a PDF, they give you actual physical plans, sometimes in wooden boxes. Our staff spent days (perhaps weeks) scanning these plans and creating PDFs. It seemed like every time I was near our production room, someone was in there scanning documents for this project. These huge sets of plans were sometimes stored in custom-built wooden containers, and I watched as our Admin staff had to use some creative-thinking to determine the best way to return these to each district.
While I was working on our qualifications for this project, it made sense to me that the evaluations would take place over the summer. But, I didn’t realize that our engineers couldn’t expect to just show up at a school in the middle of summer and have access to the facility. So, our structural engineers and Admin staff had to call each school to set up appointments. Organizing a happy-hour get-together among friends can sometimes be a challenge – this project required setting up 220 “get-togethers” over a short time-frame. As much as possible, we scheduled evaluations for schools within a geographic area close together to be efficient. This meant the scheduling process involved juggling the schedules of multiple districts along with our team of engineers. And once everything was scheduled, then the field evaluations began. It is safe to say we didn’t see much of our structural engineers over the summer, but they sent us pictures as they travelled throughout the state.
As summer comes to a close and students return to school, our engineers are also returning to the office and looking to the next steps in this project. Following the field assessments, future phases of the project include concept design of retrofit plans for a selection of schools and a summary report that will be used to inform state legislators. Being part of the coordination and hard-work that made this seismic advocacy project possible was inspiring and I look forward to seeing how the results of this project improve the seismic safety of K-12 students throughout the state.