A couple of high school students are pursuing a project that aim to "find a solution of house structural problems during natural disasters, especially typhoons, in the Asia-Pacific region, by narrowing our focus to one of the elements of the house, i.e. roof, walls, or posts," and they asked the following questions.
I should first mention that I am speaking based on my personal experiences and knowledge only; I am not speaking for any organisation. Also, these are based on experiences in the Philippines, which is probably the most typhoon-prone country in this region. But at the same time, consider that the Philippines is economically faring better than a few other countries in the same region.
Which part of the house tends to have the most damage that causes the house to collapse?
- Due to strong winds, it's usually the roof, and occasionally, windows. In many cases, there are damages to homes that are due to trees, electrical poles, or perimeter fence walls felled by strong winds. On occasion, flying objects hurled into the air by the strong winds could also cause damages to roofs and windows. But more serious damages are those due to floods and landslides, which could either completely destroy/displace a whole house or most, if not all, of its contents.
What materials could possibly help create a stronger house?
- Properly designed materials; i.e. it's not the materials used, it's whether they were properly designed to account for the potential hazards.
Which area is affected by typhoon disasters, the coastal area or the mountainous area?
- More of the coastal areas, but mountainous areas could experience stronger winds in some cases, and landslides.
What do you think is the most important aspect in solving this problem?
- Proper engineering and design of whole communities. At the same time, alluding to the last question below, people need to be better educated that proper engineering and design can help minimise, if not totally prevent disasters from happening.
Have you ever created a house structure that has managed to stay in place after a typhoon and what kind of materials was it created from?
- I have never personally constructed a house structure. But I have structurally designed a few, and they're all doing fine. But those probably haven't yet experienced design-level wind and flood loads, so they might not be the best examples for this question. While many houses have experienced varying degrees of damage, many have also had not had any problems. In the Philippines, most houses (including the ones I designed) are made of reinforced masonry walls, reinforced concrete beams and columns, and timber- or steel-frames supporting galvanized iron roof sheets. There are still a few homes that are made from more traditional construction materials, like timber and bamboo, but I haven't seen recent reports of damages to such kinds of structures because either they are not reported or people have learned to not build houses like those, and also because they would generally be more expensive and/or less feasible due to a number of factors including the threat of termites, and fire and security hazards. There are also some homes of very-low-income families that are made from non-standard housing materials (e.g. cardboard, thin plywood, or GI sheets supported by non-engineered timber frames) that would surely be damaged under strong winds, but these are usually in urban areas and probably do not get directly hit by strong typhoon winds. But again, note that under floods and landslides brought about by typhoons, all these different types of structures or materials would have no chance.
How do you involve yourself in helping those who lost their homes from the natural disaster?
- I would join in post-disaster inspections to learn how damages occurred and how they may be prevented, and use those examples for education purposes. I also try to do my best to not stop learning because there are new things being discovered each day even in this field. I would do my best to make sure I properly design or analyse any structure that I have been commissioned to design or analyse. I also participate in educational campaigns (in a university setting, or within professional organisations) to help engineers learn more about proper typhoon-resistant design, and soon, hopefully, to educate non-engineers to hire only qualified engineers.
Do you believe a house created from materials of little to no cost can be created that to withstand a natural disaster?
- Yes. Again, it all boils down to proper design and engineering. That said, some materials might be of little or no cost, but the engineering would probably require more cost than if more standard materials are used. For example, people can just use tent-like homes made from, say plastic bags, but to properly ensure that these would withstand a natural disaster requires more complicated engineering (perhaps contrary to popular belief). It could be that you would need a thousand tons of plastic bags compared to just one ton of concrete to arrive at the same structural performance against natural disasters. Lastly, consider that these would require fire-proofing and design against security risks (i.e. because burglars can easily cut through those tent walls), among other considerations. There could be other risks involved that should likewise be addressed.
Do you believe resistant houses can help villages economically?
- Yes. There would be minimal interruptions to business and life, and less injuries and losses that could entail more expenses that could otherwise be saved for economic development and other purposes.
Can education improve if houses and buildings are destroyed less frequently?
- Education can probably, though indirectly, help houses and buildings destroyed less frequently. But if buildings and houses are destroyed less and less frequently, there would probably no need for improving education about typhoon disasters. But education in general, obviously, yes. Related to my response to the previous question, there would be minimal interruptions likewise to education in general if houses and whole communities are properly designed to withstand natural disasters.