PONTIAC, Mich. — Security video showed how it seemed to happen in an instant. The Surfside Condo building in Florida collapsed claiming lives. Could a disaster like that happen here in Michigan? If it did, are we prepared?
“This building was built in the early 1980s. That means it was designed in the late 1970s. At that time most of the codes in the U.S. and around the world did not have provisions for structural integrity. Another word for that is robustness,” said Sherif El-Tawil, a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan.
El-Tawil has studied how buildings respond to stress or trauma, looking for ways to make them safer. He says robustness is a building’s ability to absorb unintended damage, such as a sinkhole or gas explosion.
He says while codes are already stronger than they were when the building that collapsed was built, this will be studied so it can be prevented.
“This is what new generations of codes are trying to change now. That we can withstand initial damage without ending up the way we ended up in this particular case,” said El-Tawil.
“This is scary. And until the investigation is done nobody knows what happened, whether it was inferior materials, or there was a sinkhole that was created and that is what caused it. Nobody knows yet,” said Michael Wilson, a Pontiac Building Official.
Wilson says building officials across the area will study this with the goal of making sure it doesn’t happen in their communities. He says building inspectors keep an eye on construction work, but often you, the public are the eyes on existing structures. If you are concerned about a building, give your local building inspector a call.
“If we receive a complaint we are out there within 24 hours,” said Wilson.
Wilson says his team has been very proactive in addressing dangerous buildings and the numbers back him up. In the last decade, they have with the help of federal funds demolished about 1000 buildings in Pontiac to keep people safe. It drives home the importance of our building inspectors.
“It is unprecedented,” said Dave McIntyre, a Michigan Task Force 1 Program Manager.
“This brings to light the fact it can happen anywhere at any time. And so that is why you have to be prepared for things like this,” said Chris Martin, a Michigan Task Force 1 Task Force Leader.
Chris Martin and Dave McIntyre say if there ever is such a disaster here in Michigan The Michigan Task Force one team of first responders trains to respond. They have never seen a building collapse like what happened in Miami in Michigan, but they also had never seen a dam collapse emptying a lake before it happened last year to the Edenville Dam north of Midland.
It drove home the message a structure can fail at any moment putting property and lives at risk. They responded to the dam collapse, working to assist people in need.
“We had a plan and there were zero fatalities. Michigan is prepared. It is a challenge when you have any kind of event like this,” said McIntyre.