The tremors felt in parts of The Bahamas following a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in the Caribbean Sea was a “wake-up call” regarding the country’s building code, according to Bahamas Society of Engineers (BSE) President Quentin Knowles.
While The Bahamas certainly did not suffer any major effects from the earthquake, many were caught by surprise after reports of some buildings shifting slightly during the event.
“It certainly was a wake-up call. We take for granted that we live in The Bahamas, we never really consider seismic activity when we sit on these design committees, that is something that is never thought of and I think these tremors we felt yesterday are certainly a wake-up call,” Knowles said in an interview with Guardian Business.
“Now whether there is any substantial risk I don’t know. It’s probably best if we get advice from seismic experts on whether we should include something in the building code, maybe but that probably has to come from seismic experts. It may be more applicable in the southern Bahamas. Whether it’s applicable in New Providence or Grand Bahama, I’m not sure. I think we can probably take an example from our neighbors in South Florida and see what they’re thinking with the building code experts over there, because they have access to so much more information and technical expertise and risk assessment professionals who can look at this intelligently.”
The government is currently in the process of updating the building code, having already established a national technical committee under the Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality (BBSQ). Knowles is a member of that technical committee.
“As far as their interactions with private sector engineers such as myself, there hasn’t been a lot but I do say this. The current building code, mind you it is outdated and there are a lot of things that need to be updated, but it is a robust building code. But I think our biggest challenge is enforcement,” he said when asked about the progress of updating the building code.
“We can have all these wonderful rules and codes but if you don’t have a robust enforcement mechanism, all of that is just words. I think that is probably the biggest failure. It does need updating, it’s a 2003 code and so many techniques have changed, different building processes.”
Just last week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the devastation of Hurricane Dorian has caused the government to rethink the enforcement of building codes. “We must rethink our regulations regarding how close we will allow any construction on our shorelines. The good news is that we are receiving scores of recommendations for our review and consideration from both international and Bahamian experts and companies,” Minnis said.