Structural Engineers: Guardians of Building Safety during Earthquakes


Structural engineering is a subset of civil engineering, and is mainly concerned with structural stability of buildings. In fact, structural engineers have a critical role to play in designing and constructing structures and buildings; it’s their job to make sure that the building is stable and safe, and capable of withstanding the different forces and loads that it will be subjected to throughout its life. They do this by calculating the strength and stability of load bearing structures and checking if they will be able to resist the elements of nature.


Role of Structural Engineers


A structural engineer is a specialized civil engineer who is concerned with the internal structure or framework of a building. Structural engineers prepare drawings and specifications, make necessary calculations, and conduct evaluations to ensure compliance with building codes and regulations framed by relevant authorities.  Their primary responsibility is making sure that the building is safe, durable, and structurally sound.

Structural consultants relate measures of physical forces to configurations of elements that resist force. They also have to determine the forces in each structural element once the elemental configuration has been defined. They study how the different materials used in construction interact with each other under various environmental conditions and loads and design the structure so as to be able to resist those forces.


Earthquake-Resistant Structures


Our knowledge about earthquakes have enabled us to build structures that can withstand earthquakes; no building is truly earthquake proof – it can only be made resistant to a certain extent. And this resistance depends on the design, structure, materials used, and the processes followed while building. Scientists, architects, and engineers have researched for years to determine the best materials and designs for buildings in earthquake-prone areas.

To be able to withstand earthquakes, the foundations of those buildings must have a specific foundational makeup and layouts, and need special materials and beams capable of absorbing shockwaves. Triangles are often used to ensure maximum strength. Waves from earthquakes exert force on buildings from a specific direction, so to make them resistant to earthquakes, the construction is done so as to push the buildings in the opposite direction.

Need of Designing Earthquake-Resistant Structures


During earthquakes, the ground shakes, and waves are spread through its energy, which go in different directions like ripples. The center of the quake bears the maximum impact. Usually, buildings are designed to withstand normal forces of nature like gravity, rain, and wind – and some amount of weight vertically, but not horizontal or underground force waves. Earthquakes cause the walls, foundations, floors, and support beams to shake and vibrate violently. The upper part of the building shakes and moves at different speeds and forces than the lower part, weakening the building’s structural integrity. This can cause cracks in the foundation, breaking of support frames, and eventually, the collapse of the whole building.


Designing Earthquake-Resistant Structures by Structural Engineers


Key skills and expertise required in earthquake-resistant building design


Structural engineering consultants should have the following skills:


  • Analytical skills to carefully analyze facts so that they can find the right solutions to correct flaws in structures
  • Organizational skills to design structures and have the proper order of procedures for project delivery, ensuring all requisite permits are obtained
  • Meticulous – paying attention to detail is essential to be able to design the basic structures that can hold a building in its place, and avoid making mistakes that could become expensive in the future, and to ensure the building’s safety.
  • Problem solving – critical requirement to be able to solve flaws in building plans or redo flawed existing structures.
  • Leadership – as they are often the project heads, and may have to manage teams that can deliver projects on schedule and within budgets.
  • Communication – they must be able to clearly convey designs, reports, project statuses etc. through presentations or in written form with other teams, management, and customers.
  • Computer savvy – today most designing and calculation work is performed with the help of software; also, spreadsheets, emails, and word processors are used, so they have to be skilled at these too.


Designing process 

Structural engineers have to design and analyze structures to ensure efficiency, safety, and economy, of buildings. They collaborate for new projects’ design and plans with other engineers and architects. They have to ensure that structures are able to withstand loads that they may be subjected to, including earthquake forces – else the buildings will suffer extensive damage.

Structural analysis techniques used by engineers

To ensure that a building can withstand loads (in this case, lateral forces of the ground as it shakes), structural engineers carefully design structural elements.

Earthquake loads are quantified and this value helps in determining the design lateral force the building has to resist; this is used to determine sizes of beams, columns, walls, and other structural elements. These lateral forces are often pretty large; to be able to design buildings that can resist these forces, it’s essential for engineers to understand soil behavior. This is because the soil on which a building is constructed impacts the response of the building to the ground shaking. The softer the soil, the larger the lateral forces and vice versa. Engineers use several methods to determine the soil type and its nature.

Selection of appropriate materials and construction methods

After completing the load analysis, the structural system is designed, and the right materials chosen – steel, timber, concrete, or any other. The correct size and placement of foundations, columns, beams etc. is also determined. Each project has to have its own evaluation based on the location, seismic conditions, soil, and type of building as they can all impact the building differently.

Structural engineers use different materials and methods to make the building earthquake resistant – steel is the most preferred one due to its strength and high breakage point. Concrete is strong but less ductile, so they require special reinforcements to be earthquake resistant.

Shear walls, moment-resisting frames, diaphragms, cross braces, etc. are some of the other methods used to render a structure resistant to earthquakes.


Isolation method involves building a structure on a base that is isolated from the ground shaking with special support, or by using an air or water layer to float the building. In some instances, a flexible foundation is created, using rubber, steel, or lead, and these foundation pads absorb the shock of the quake to protect the building.


Latest advancements in earthquake-resistant building design by structural engineering


Technology plays an increasing role in the design of earthquake resistant buildings as engineers use computer simulations and build digital 3D models to check for possible flaws and perfect the structural design before they actually start construction. As we saw above, they also use methods like base isolation to make the buildings sturdier. They also utilize damping systems to attain the objective. Vibrational control devices and pendulum dampers are used to decrease the external pressure that acts on the building. Dampers are kept between a column and beam on all the floors; these absorb the force waves of the earthquake. Pendulum dampers are basically huge balls suspended from buildings and connected through hydraulic systems and cables. During earthquakes, the ball helps the structure to retain balance by swinging in the opposite direction.


Are you looking for structural engineering consultants in the UAE ? DSI has a proven track record and a highly qualified team with the expertise to design and construct buildings that are durable, aesthetically appealing, and secure. 



  • Who are structural engineers?

They are civil engineers who specialize in ensuring safety and durability of buildings and for resolving flaws in existing structures.

  • What is the structural design for earthquake-resistant building?

The building must be designed in a manner to resist the lateral forces caused by an earthquake and the shaking of the ground, and to push the building in the opposite direction of the force.

  • What is the role of structural engineers in preventing damage to buildings?

They study the soil, location, and building type to determine the best design and materials to help it withstand earthquakes, and can help to rebuild structures after natural disasters.