Engineers inspect damage
Colored tags indicate whether buildings are safe to occupy in the quakes' aftermath
Two teams of structural engineers are checking out the safety of buildings on Big Island this week after the Oct. 15 earthquakes.
Hawaii County received more than 1,000 individual requests to evaluate building damage after the magnitude-6.7 Kiholo Earthquake, said Gary Chock, vice president of the Structural Engineers Association of Hawaii.
He said the association has trained members in both earthquake and post-hurricane safety evaluations, using methods developed by the Applied Technology Council.
Training was renewed over the past six months for members and nonmembers, he said. About 100 structural engineers are trained to evaluate buildings after hurricanes, and 50 after earthquakes, he estimated.
Chock said the association has been in contact with state Civil Defense since the earthquakes, and when Hawaii County asked for help, 16 structural engineers volunteered to go to the Big Island.
He said all of them are trained in the nationally accepted procedure for post-earthquake safety and are "very experienced with the design, construction and behavior of building structures."
The first team went to the Kona Coast Monday and will work there through Saturday. The second team went to the Hilo side yesterday.
They are looking for readily observable, gross structural damage and distress, hazardous geotechnical conditions and other hazards threatening human safety.
Buildings are examined from the outside for damage to determine if they are safe to enter, and grounds are checked for fissures, failures and signs of slope movement.
Unsafe areas are barricaded with tape to warn against entry.
Colored placards are posted on inspected buildings: Green means inspected and considered safe for lawful occupancy; yellow means entry, occupancy and lawful use are restricted; and red means unsafe, do not enter or occupy.
"A red tag does not mean condemnation," Chock emphasized. He said the tagging system is to identify whether a building can be immediately occupied.
"When a building receives a yellow or red tag, in almost all cases it will be possible to bring them back into green status, unless it has totally collapsed."
Thus far, Chock said, about 50 buildings have red tags, and 120 have yellow tags.
The Big Island has about 50,000 homes, and maybe 2,000 had some kind of damage, many of them minor, Chock said. "Statistically, the level of damages is relatively light for a 6.7-magnitude earthquake."
He said the tags posted on the buildings can change once the unsafe condition is corrected, if the Public Works Department or a professional engineer re-evaluates the situation or if more damage occurs because of an aftershock.
Owners of homes with yellow or red tags are advised to contact a qualified professional architect or engineer for advice on ways to repair the damage, eliminate the hazards or possibly rebuild.
The county has said owners of yellow- and red-tagged homes can submit repair plans to the building division for review without any processing fee, Chock pointed out.
DISASTER RECOVERY CENTERS SET HOURS
Hawaii County Civil Defense has established times and places when Disaster Recovery Centers will held on the Big Island. Federal, state and county officials will be available to assist with applying for aid. All times are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
» Waimea: Tomorrow through Tuesday, Waimea Family YMCA
» Kona: Tomorrow through Tuesday, Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort
» North Kohala: Wednesday through Nov. 5, Kohala Senior Center, Kapaau
Civil Defense Director Troy Kindred will also be available from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at a community festival at the Kohala Intergenerational Center, Kapaau.