Oklahoma earthquakes spurs design and engineering response

Posted in: Bridges, Environmental, Highways

earthquake-300x153pxOklahoma experienced 907 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2015, 585 magnitude 3+ earthquakes in 2014 and 109 in 2013. This rise in seismic events has the attention of engineers, architects and environmental scientists.

As a biologist I am intrigued by how animals respond to and/or forecast seismic events. When nearly all of Oklahoma shook on Saturday, September 3rd, I immediately made note of what was happening around me. My dogs became agitated and began barking or they hunkered down and stayed very quiet. It became strangely quiet outside. Within a few hours of the 5.8 magnitude quake, a report was released that a mass movement of birds was picked up on weather radar before the seismic event. Along with the biological aspect of these earthquakes, I think about all the transportation related work I have been part of here in Oklahoma and how that may be affected.

There are myths and misconceptions about induced seismicity in Oklahoma. In response to all that is unknown, on January 28, 2016 Governor Fallin approved the use of nearly $1.4 million from the state emergency fund to bolster the efforts of earthquake regulators and researchers in Oklahoma.

While bridges in Oklahoma are designed to withstand a certain amount of vibrations, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation recently went through a rigorous process to develop an earthquake inspection policy and manual beginning with a 5-mile radius on a 4.7 magnitude. As part of this policy, state highway bridges are inspected within a 30-mile radius of an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.4 to 5.8 and within a 60-mile radius of an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 to 6.2. September 3rd’s 5.8 magnitude is the strongest earthquake the state has experienced to date.

This recent September earthquake prompted immediate bridge and dam inspections within specific and predetermined areas around the epicenter and the closure of many injection wells. Architecture and engineering professionals are helping by providing much needed inspections and recommending improvements.

While we wait for the damage assessment from the September 3rd event to be produced and published, questions and concerns regarding how we prepare and design for earthquakes in the future are being  addressed.



Kim Shannon is a member of the environmental leadership team at Mead & Hunt. She has worked on a variety of project types including oil and gas, electric transmission, nuclear, transportation, commercial development, and local government. She is a former President of the Oklahoma Native Plant Society and the current President of the Oxley Nature Center Association in Tulsa. Effusive and friendly, Kim is happiest outdoors with her plants.

Other blog articles by Kim include:

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