Bad structures kill, says PH firm at launch of tech to check building safety
MANILA, Philippines—A Filipino company headed by the dean of what could be the country’s most well-known engineering school on Monday (Sept. 2) launched technology that its inventors said could save lives by accurate monitoring of buildings’ structural integrity before, during and after an earthquake.
Usher Technologies, Inc., headed by Mapua University Dean Dr. Francis Aldrine Uy, introduced to the public the Universal Structural Health Evaluation and Recording System (USHER).
According to Uy, USHER seeks to minimize the damage caused by earthquakes, especially the so-called “Big One” or the anticipated movement of the West Valley Fault which slithers through eastern Metro Manila, by monitoring a building’s structural health.
Research expects more than 50,000 deaths in case a Magnitude 7.1 earthquake hits Metro Manila.
“USHER is an advanced system and has two main components: the device, and the 24/7 web portal system. USHER is the future now in structural health monitoring,” Uy said during the launch at a hotel in Pasay City.
“This device with the purpose of saving lives through structural health monitoring, has gone through an evolution, with each phase getting better and better, with more added features,” he added.
The device, which appears like an ordinary electronic fuse box with an antenna, can monitor movements in the building, and alert the central server if earthquakes happen. Data about the movements are then sent to a cloud storage for engineers and scientists to analyze.
According to USHER’s manual, the device exceeds the compliance standards for structural health checkers set by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), in accordance with its Guidelines and Implementing Rules on Earthquake Recording Instrumentations.
It can also last for at least 10 years, powered by a battery connected to a charger, and can continuously hold information about the building.
How it came about
The Philippines has had a myriad of earthquakes being in the Pacific ring of fire, with the most memorable being the 1990 Great Luzon Earthquake. This clocked at Magnitude 7.7 and brought several buildings in Baguio City down, claiming over 1,600 lives.
Just this year, three major earthquakes already struck the country: the first was in April 22, when a Magnitude 6.1 quake centered in Castillejos, Zambales left eight dead, mostly in Pampanga. Several buildings were damaged, including the Clark International Airport, while the tremor was felt as far as Manila and provinces in Southern Luzon.
Then, a day after, a Magnitude 6.4 hit San Julian town in Eastern Visayas. The most recent tremor was in Itbayat, Batanes, which was rocked by a series of earthquakes, with the strongest movement recorded at Magnitude 5.9.
These earthquakes — and the supposed unpreparedness of the establishments — prompted Uy, a Mapuan himself, to start thinking about a device that could help the country.
“My alma mater has ingrained in me the social value of utilizing technology to answer society’s needs. Coupled with the advocacy and civil systems, I wanted to develop technology that responds to a pressing need for our country today: earthquake resilience,” he said.
“We saw the devastating effects of earthquakes in and out of the country. Most of the damages, injuries, and unfortunately, casualties, they came from the rubble of structures that collapsed or sustained damages,” he added.
Aside from monitoring structural integrity, Uy said that USHER is also useful after the quake and when officials need to determine whether buildings are safe for re-occupation.
“Its 24/7 web portal system is with decision-support tools that helps structural engineers, property managers, building officials and other stakeholders in diagnosing the structural integrity of buildings, before, during, and after an earthquake,” Uy said.
“These features allow USHER to maximize its primary purpose, to save lives. It is a symbol of hope for Filipinos, it is now representative of Filipino engineering,” he added.
Building safety has been a problem after earthquakes, as shown during the Castillejos quake, where major businesses went on holiday for one or several days to assess structural integrity. Uy said time wasted on checking for building safety has an effect on the economy.
At least 13 private buildings, 12 government structures and 10 bridges in Metro Manila and nearby provinces have been pinned on USHER’s monitoring map.
These included the Commission on Audit main office and EDSA-Santolan flyover in Quezon City, the DPWH building and Technological University of the Philippines in Manila, and the EDSA-Roxas Boulevard flyover in Pasay.
Private buildings included the Mandarin Square and Yuchengo Tower 1 in Manila, and Prima Residences in Quezon City. At least 250 structured are already in the USHER map.
Uy also boasted of USHER’s awards: in 2018, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) gave the Outstanding Research and Development award for the development of USHER, then known as the Smartbridge.
The company also got the World Summit Award in Lisbon, Portugal in 2018 for its contribution to Smart Settlements and Urbanization.
Another award is coming ob Sept 13 from the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations.
“As an engineer, it pained me to see such (quake) effects which I know can be prevented,” said Uy.
“We saw the need for earthquake and structural health monitoring, to intensify in our country. Since then my passion for structural health and disaster resilience has awakened, and it became the advocacy of my life,” Uy said.
“The device that can save Filipino lives was made with Filipino hands. This is at par or even better than global standards. It is also recognized as a genuine product abroad,” he added./TSB