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International Symposium Disaster Reduction on Coasts

14 16 November 2005 Monash University, Melbourne, Australia


Priyan Dias, Lakshan Fernando, Suranjanie Wathurapatha and Yenuka de Silva
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Moratuwa
Moratuwa, Sri Lanka
ABSTRACT: The differing failure modes of boundary walls, low cost single-storey structures, and multi-storey
concrete framed structures under tsunami loading demonstrate the three main effects of such loading, namely
overturning, sliding and scouring. Case studies are used to estimate tsunami forces and velocities and also to
propose more robust construction. The concept of a disaster limit state is explored i.e. allowing failure but
minimizing loss of life. Controlled failure, heavier walls (together with holding down) and alternate load paths
(together with load shedding) are proposed as the design paradigms for boundary walls, low cost single-storey
structures, and multi-storey concrete framed structures respectively.



The three main threats posed by a tsunami against structures are failure by sliding, overturning and scouring [1].
This paper considers some case studies of each, drawn from structural failures on the Sri Lankan coastline
following the tsunami of 26 December 2004.
The objectives of the paper are (i) to propose load and resistance models for tsunami loading and structural
resistance; (ii) to suggest structural forms for mitigating tsunami damage; and (iii) to arrive at some high level
paradigms for designing against tsunamis.
For each case study, the approach is to obtain the structural resistance of the structure concerned (or elements
thereof), using material properties and/or codes of practice. Next, the loading imposed by the tsunami is
quantified and compared to the resistance after performing structural analysis. Neither load nor resistance partial
safety factors are used in the calculations, the objective being to understand the actual failure of the structure
under tsunami loading. The case studies also demonstrate how changes to structural form could eliminate or
mitigate failure. This results in the evolution of certain design paradigms to deal with tsunami loads.
The phenomenon of sliding is considered by studying the performance of some single storey cottages at a beach
hotel, some of which were completely swept off their foundations, while others (having thicker walls) were
spared. The overturning of a toilet structure is considered next. Also under the aspect of overturning, structural
forms that will result in local panel failure, rather than overturning, of boundary walls are explored. Finally,
consideration is made of different structural alterations to prevent disproportionate collapse resulting from the
undermining of a corner column, due to tsunami scouring, in a two storey school building.



Prior to embarking on the objectives above, we need to decide on a model for tsunami loading. Authors differ
regarding both the approach and the formulae for such loading.
Some workers [2] propose an equivalent hydrostatic load (triangularly varying) to represent both the static and
dynamic effects of a tsunami wave, with the height of the triangular load distribution being 3 times the
inundation depth (H), based on empirical observations. On the other hand, other publications [3] prefer a separate
expression for static loading as

Fs = 0.5 H A


where = specific weight of water and A = surface area of structure impacted by the wave;
while dynamic load is given by [3,4]
Fd = 0.5 Cd V2 A


where = mass density of water, V = velocity and Cd is a drag coefficient varying from 1.25 to 2.0
The expression for velocity [3,4,5] is given as
V = k (gH)0.5


where g = gravitational acceleration and k is given various values such as 1.1 [4] and 2.0 [5], although if
the latter is used, velocity reduction factors due to slope and bed roughness are also recommended.
If we substitute for V from eq. (3) in eq. (2), we obtain
Fd = 0.5 (k2.Cd) (g) H A


Comparing eq. (4) with eq. (1), we note that g = and if (k2.Cd) is approximately equal to 2, Fd will be twice Fs;
this results in an equivalent hydrostatic load based on 3 times H, and constitutes a harmonization of the two
approaches above. The above formulae apply to H values less than the structure height. Appropriate adjustments
can be made if this condition is violated.
In this paper, we use static and dynamic loads separately, because the points of resultant load applications will be
different for the triangular static load and the uniform dynamic load. Also, it will allow us to consider two
loading conditions (Fig. 1), namely (i) point of impact, when both the static and dynamic loads are acting in a
single direction, but the actual total weight of the structure can be mobilized for resistance; and (ii) postsubmergence, when only a net dynamic force will be effective, but resistance is obtained only from the
submerged weight of the structure. We also use a value of k = 1.0 in eq. (3). In fact Bryant [5] indicates that
velocities of between 5.9 and 9.3 m/s can be obtained from a tsunami wave height of 8 m. If we use a value of H
= 8 m in eq. (1) with k = 1, we get V = 8.9 m/s, which is quite close to Bryants upper limit; hence using k = 1
(ignoring slope and bed roughness reduction factors) will be adequately conservative. Finally, in most cases, for
our isolated rectangular structures, Cd is around 1.25 [3].








W - V

Fig. 1 Loading conditions (i) point of impact / not submerged; and (ii) post-submergence / submerged



We consider first two sets of beach cottages (around 80 m from the shoreline) at Nilaveli Beach Hotel near
Trincomalee, on the North Eastern shore of Sri Lanka. As shown in Fig. 2, a set of three cottages forms a single
storey building unit. All the brick walls (density taken as 21.5 kN/m3 here and elsewhere) are of 113 mm
thickness, except that in some cottages the external side walls (fully shaded in black in Fig. 2) were 225 mm. All
the wall heights were 3.35 m above plinth level; there were no gable walls. The isolated timber columns in Fig. 2
are mostly decorative and carry little load; they are located into the floor with a single dowel, which is assumed
not to contribute any shear resistance. The shear resistance against lateral load in fact comes only from the
contact between the walls and their plinths. This bond strength was taken as [6]
fb = 0.15 + 0.6 (W/A)

(in MPa)


where W is the effective weight (including submergence effects) and A the area of wall-plinth contact.

3.7 m

113 mm OR 225 mm BRICK WALLS


225 mm DIA.

3.7 m



3.7 m



2.3 m

1.8 m

5.6 m

2.3 m

Fig. 2 Plan view of Nilaveli Beach Cottages

In addition to the weights of the walls, the roof and ceiling loads (timber and asbestos) were approximated to a
uniformly distributed load of 0.75 kN/m2 of plan area. In calculating the submerged weight (and also the tsunami
loads) the density of sea water is taken, here and elsewhere, as 1025 kN/m3.
The height of the tsunami at these cottages was estimated as around 4 m above plinth level, based on eyewitness
accounts and evidence of slight damage to roof eaves of buildings that were left standing. The wave direction
was from the right hand side of the plan view in Fig. 2. The interesting thing about these cottages is that all those
having 113 mm walls throughout were shorn off their plinths in sliding failure, while most of them with 225 mm
external walls remained standing, despite internal damage.
This scenario is captured in Table 1, where both not submerged and submerged conditions are considered
corresponding to the point of impact and post-submergence conditions respectively, described in Section 2
and Fig. 1. The static and dynamic loads, calculated according to eqs. (1) and (2) and other assumptions in
Section 2, work out to 862 kN and 927 kN respectively. It should be noted that forces on the roof (submerged for
0.65 m) were ignored, as was the sliding resistance between the roof and ceiling structures and the tops of the
walls. The area corresponding to static and dynamic loading was taken as the full frontal face of the cottages,
despite the presence of openings, since internal walls behind these openings would have taken the loading if
shutters were either open or had given way.
Table 1 Sliding Resistance of Nilaveli Cottages
Wall contact area, A (m2)
Weight of roof (kN)
Weight of walls (kN)
Upthrust on walls (kN)
Net effective wt., W (kN)
Shear resistance (MPa)
Sliding resistance (kN)

All walls 113 mm;

not submerged

All walls 113 mm;


Ext. walls 225 mm;

not submerged

Ext. walls 225 mm;






If we consider load condition (i), i.e. point of impact, the tsunami load is 862 + 927 = 1789 kN. When looking at
Table 1, we see that this is greater than the not submerged resistance for cottages with all walls of 113 mm
thickness (1453 kN) but less than the corresponding resistance for cottages with external walls of 225 mm (1803
kN). If we consider load condition (ii), i.e. post-submergence, the tsunami load is 927 kN (i.e. only the dynamic
load). This however is less than the submerged resistance both for cottages with all walls of 113 mm thickness
(1309 kN) and for cottages with external walls of 225 mm (1617 kN).
The above calculations reveal that the point of impact condition may be more critical than the postsubmergence one. Hence use of the latter alone [4] may not be be satisfactory. This exercise also indicates that
our assumptions for tsunami velocity are reasonable, given that our calculations reproduced the actual situation
where one set of cottages stood while the other didnt. The additional weight of the 225 mm external walls
contributed to saving cottages having such a feature, suggesting that heavy walls are required for tsunami prone
structures. In addition, the use of peripheral reinforced concrete columns (225 mm x 225 mm) with even 10 mm
dia. reinforcement, at spacings not exceeding 6 m and tied together by roof beams, is recommended for such
structures [7]. Such columns would have a shear resistance (without a safety factor) of at least around 0.65 MPa
[8], resulting in a total sliding resistance of around 260 kN for 8 columns. If this value is added to the not
submerged resistance of 1453 kN for cottages with all walls of 113 mm thickness, it will result in a total
resistance of 1713 kN, just below the critical point of impact load of 1789 kN. The concrete framing will also
contribute to overall integrity, reducing the possibility of local shearing of wall elements.



The second case study is regarding a toilet structure with a very shallow foundation that was turned over by a
wave height of 2.3 m above ground level, the height being estimated by water level marks on nearby upright
structures. This occurred near Batticaloa, on the South Eastern coast of Sri Lanka, and the structure was around
100 m from the shoreline. Fig. 3 gives the details of the toilet structure. The concrete roof (density taken as 24
kN/m3 here and elsewhere) was not submerged at all. The toilet structure has 4 brick piers of 225 mm x 225 mm
size at its corners and walls of 113 mm thickness. One side (not facing the sea) has a door, for which reductions
were made in the weight of the structure. The foundation is in fact a brick plinth wall of 338 mm thickness.
0.075 m

0.3 m

0.3 m

1.83 m

0.075 m
0.46 m


0.3 m

Fig. 3 Toilet structure caused to overturn

Table 2 gives the relevant load and resistance parameters for the point of impact/ not submerged and the postsubmergence/ submerged conditions. The net static force is zero for the submerged case (Fig. 1) and the net
effective weight for the submerged case is based on submerged density for the parts of the structure submerged.
Overturning about a point P (Fig. 3) is considered when computing the overturning and resisting moments.
In this case we see from Table 2 that the toilet structure will be overturned under both conditions point of
impact/ not submerged and post-submergence/ submerged. Once again however the point of impact case is
more critical, having a greater interval between overturning and resisting moments.

Table 2 Overturning and Resisting Moments in Toilet Structure

Point of Impact
Net Static force (kN)
Dynamic force (kN)
Moment due to Net Static force (kNm)
Moment due to Dynamic force (kNm)
Total Overturning Moment (kNm)
Net Effective Weight (kN)
Resisting Moment (kNm)
Structures such as these could be given deeper foundations. However a more effective strategy would be to
construct a row of toilets, with the long way direction of the toilet block structure oriented perpendicular to the
shoreline and parallel to a potential tsunami wave.



Many boundary walls collapsed as a result of the tsunami. Such walls are seldom designed at all, and even if
designed, they account only for wind loading. One of the strategies that could be used for boundary walls is in
fact to allow collapse of a limited nature, but to prevent overturning that could cause many deaths. Once the
limited collapse occurs, the tsunami waters will be able to pass through the wall and most of the unidirectional
lateral load on the wall will disappear.
Fig. 4 indicates the elevation and sectional elevation of a 2.25 m high wall that comprises a concrete framing and
infill solid blockwork (density assumed as 21.5 kN/m2) of 150 mm thickness. The wall height is chosen on the
basis that it will be difficult to scale for a casual passer by. The panel lengths are 3 m between columns that vary
in cross section as seen in the sectional elevation (Fig. 4). The entire wall load is taken to the column
foundations, so that they will be stabilized by the weight. There are beams at ground level and an intermediate
level, but not at the top, because a cantilever height of 0.9 m was considered acceptable, if subjected only to
wind load.


0.225 m

0.225 m
0.9 m

0.15 m

0.30 m

1.2 m

0.225 m
0.85 m
0.375 m
0.15 m
x m

y m

Fig. 4 Boundary wall design for controlled panel failure rather than overturning failure
This configuration was chosen on the basis of subjecting to a triangular sea water load, various heights of wall
panels (all 3 m long) spanning between columns and beams and simply supported thereby. This triangular load

could be considered an equivalent tsunami load [2], although this approach is generally not adopted in our paper.
At any rate the (unfactored) bending stresses for bending moment (BM) axes parallel and perpendicular to the
bedding planes are obtained as given in Table 3. Now the characteristic bending strengths (also unfactored) for
BM axes parallel and perpendicular to the bedding planes are 0.2 and 0.4 MPa respectively [6]. This means that
the stress from the BM axis parallel to the bed is the critical one, and that a panel of 1.2 m height will just fail
under a triangular loading. We then place the intermediate beam at a height of 1.2 m from ground level,
expecting that the lower panel will fail when the water level reaches that height.
Table 3 Bending Stresses (MPa) in Boundary Wall Panels of Various Heights (Panel length = 3 m)
Wall height (m)
BM axis // to bed
BM axis 90o to bed
Next we must ensure that overturning will not take place until the 1.2 m high panel fails. In order to do this
rotational stability about the end of a foundation is considered. The overturning moment is created by the 1.2 m
high water plus a wind load of 0.9 kN/m2 above that level, and the resisting moment is provided by the weight of
the wall (not submerged, since the water is all on one side) and soil above the foundation, plus some soil friction.
Various combinations of x and y (footing dimensions Fig. 4) were tried such that the area was always 1 m2.
The results in Table 4 indicate that a rectangular footing with an aspect ratio of 2 will just about suffice.
Table 4 Variation of Resisting Moment with Column Footing Dimensions
Footing Size x (m) & y (m)
Overturning Moment (kNm)
Resisting Moment (kNm)
1.0 x 1.0
0.67 x 1.5
0.5 x 2.0
This case demonstrates the notion of controlled failure. If the entire 2.25 m wall overturned, a zone
corresponding to that height would be vulnerable with respect to death or injury. On the other hand, if controlled
failure is engineered, a much smaller zone would be vulnerable (Fig. 5). This could be one example of how to
design for a disaster limit state, where failure is accepted as inevitable, but injury or death prevented as far as

Zone of vulnerability

Fig. 5 Differing zones of vulnerability behind boundary walls, based on failure mode



Concrete framed structures of 2 storeys and higher generally performed well under tsunami loading, probably
because they were more robust, and also because in general the entire unsubmerged weight of most of the upper
storey(s) was available for stability. The problem with multi-storey structures was the undermining of
foundations due to scouring, generally at corner columns, where eddying would have taken place. In some cases
the entire foundation was uncovered and soil support lost. In two school buildings, both on the South Eastern
cost (i.e. at Batticaloa and Amparai), where plinth beams were not provided either, two complete bays of the 2-

storey buildings had collapsed, because the corner column foundations on both sides of the building had been
undermined. The distances to the shoreline and heights of inundation were around 35 m and 3 m respectively at
Batticaloa and around 100 m and 4m respectively at Amparai. The scour depths were around half the inundation
depths or more, corresponding to the case for sandy soils in ref. [3].
Fig. 6 shows the plan view of one end of these typical school buildings, with suggested modifications as well.
The potential tsunami wave direction is in the long way direction of the building from the left hand side of the
plan view in Fig. 6; the same modifications should be provided at the right hand side of the building too (to deal
with the returning wave). These modifications will enhance the performance of the building even if the wave is
in the short way direction of the building. Typically the long way direction has around 9 bays of around 3 m
each. The upper floor beams and roof trusses span around 7.6 m in the short way direction and are supported on
columns that run along the two long way edges. If both corner columns lose their support, it is clear that the end
bay will collapse. Some measures for counteracting this are (i) to increase the founding depths of the footings at
risk; (ii) to provide a central column at the end face in order to create some redundancy; (iii) to provide a plinth
beam, so that the corner columns at risk are tied back to the first internal columns; and (iv) to provide infill walls
at least in the end bays of the building in the long way direction, so that it can function as a sort of shear plate if
the corner columns lose their bearing the infill walls in the short way direction at the ends of the building and
under every alternate main beam are in fact already provided in the type plans.

Fig. 6 Plan view of one end of a typical school building, with suggested modifications
Fig. 7 shows the long way frame of one of these school buildings. The frame itself does not carry much load
directly, apart from a uniformly distributed load of 3.34 kN/m on the first floor beams, due to a parapet wall and
fascia at that level. However, the roof and upper floor loads, carried in the short way direction, are received by
the columns. For example, roof loads of 17.2 and 19.6 kN are carried at points A3 and B3 respectively, and floor
loads of 43.4 kN and 78.4 kN are carried at points A2 and B2 respectively. All reinforced concrete columns and
beams are of dimension 225 mm x 225 mm, and the infill brickwork wall (when used) is of thickness 225 mm.
Beam 2








Column B1

Plinth Beam

Infill wall

Undermined footing
Fig. 7 Long way frame of school building with undermined corner footing and suggested modifications

Table 5 indicates various parameters for 5 cases, namely (1) corner column firmly fixed; (2) bearing lost for
corner column; (3) Case 2 plus the addition of a plinth beam; (4) Case 2 plus the introduction of an infill wall in
the end bay - this wall is assumed not to have a foundation, on the basis that it could be undermined too; and (5)
Case 2 plus plinth beam plus infill wall in the end bay.
Table 5 Stress Resultants and Displacements near Corner Column of School Building
Case (see Fig. 7)
Axial load (kN)
BM (kNm) in
Settlement (mm)
in Column B1
Beam 2 at B2
of Support A0
1 Base Case
2 Support A0 is lost
3 Case 2 plus plinth beam B1
4 Case 2 plus wall panel A1-A2-B2-B1
5 Case 3 plus Case 4
We see from Table 5 that when the corner column bearing is lost (Case 2), the axial load on the first internal
column increases significantly; this could precipitate collapse. Some of the remedial measures, i.e. cases 4 and 5,
actually produce the greatest loads, because the added infill brickwork load will also be carried by this column.
Hence strengthening the first internal column should also be considered. The support bending moment in Beam 2
at B2 also increases tremendously with Case 2; once again this could precipitate a cantilever type collapse.
However, all proposed remedial measures improve this situation, especially the introduction of the brickwork
panel. The large settlement at support A0 with the undermining of the foundation is also considerably reduced by
the remedial measures proposed. It should be noted that the largest tensile stress in the brickwork was 0.17 MPa
in both Cases 4 and 5, and that the largest compressive stresses were 2.10 MPa and 0.41 MPa for Cases 4 and 5
respectively. These can be considered tolerable for masonry, especially at an extreme limit state.
What this exercise teaches us is that an effective solution to the undermining of foundations caused by scouring
is to provide redundancy and alternate load paths, so that loads can be shed from the ineffective element to others
that can carry them. Using both a plinth beam and an end bay wall panel is advisable, while strengthening the
first internal column too. Using a plinth beam alone does not improve the situation much. It is the end bay wall
that gives the best improvement, but the plinth beam would ensure that the wall is adequately supported, even if
a separate wall foundation is undermined. It should be noted that the addition of end bay walls is a very easy
retrofitting solution. The first internal columns could also be easily strengthened by jacketing.



We have proposed a formula for tsunami velocity that is at the lower bound of what is found in the literature. It
nevertheless appears to explain both the failure and non failure of structures subjected to tsunamis. This formula
for velocity is something that requires consensus among researchers and practitioners.
We have also performed calculations without any load or resistance safety factors. When designing for extreme
events such as a tsunami, not using load safety factors appears to be acceptable. Given the extreme nature (and in
many countries the low frequency of occurrence) of such an event, it may even be acceptable to eliminate
material safety factors as well, so that the factor of safety against failure is just unity. This could be another
feature of designing at the disaster limit state.




We have shown that static and dynamic components of tsunami loading should be considered
separately, so that two different loading conditions, namely point of impact (when the full weight
of the structure contributes to resistance) and post-submergence (when only the submerged weight
of the structure contributes to resistance) can be considered.
We have found the point of impact condition to be the more critical one, in general.
For single storey structures, it is better that wall weights be increased and that an external reinforced
concrete frame be introduced, to both weigh down and hold down the structure to the foundation.
We have used a boundary wall example to suggest that controlled failure could be a strategy for
designing at the disaster limit state in our case, by allowing the failure of panels before the
overturning of the entire wall, so that the zone of vulnerability behind the wall is reduced.



We have demonstrated through the example of a school building that providing redundancy and
alternate load paths will be effective in situations where an important element (or its bearing) is lost,
so that loads can be shed from the ineffective element to others that can carry them.

The authors wish to thank Mr Ravihansa Chandratilake who was associated with this study in various ways.
Financial and other assistance given by the University of Moratuwa and Holcim (Pvt) Ltd towards this study is
gratefully acknowledged. In addition, assistance for travel related costs was mediated by Prof. Paul Grundy and
also given by the Institution of Structural Engineers (U.K.).




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