Many people may already have forgotten the dangers Southern Nevada faced in the past weeks with the high winds and gusts, which caused some power outages and minor damage.
Structural engineers research these environmental risks and analyze the effects of wind on facilities. The data and wind trends are studied to help engineers create structures that will withstand high wind speeds. Wind speed has been well documented over the past 50-plus years, so engineers have a good starting point for calculations. They must consider the ground surface irregularities in the direction from which the wind is coming. For instance, if an engineer is designing a home in a densely populated neighborhood, the other homes in the neighborhood are considered irregularities that impede the wind. If a home stands alone on the plains of the desert, though, there are little to no irregularities and the full force of the wind must be resisted.
The height of the structure also is important, as are the types of resisting elements, such as steel frames, concrete walls or wood walls. These components have different resisting capabilities, and differing frequencies of vibration to be considered. Channeling effects — or “wind tunnel” effects — also are analyzed and are particularly important for high-rise areas, such as the Strip.
Throughout the years, structural engineering professionals have protected locals and visitors alike with their designs. Imagine if the winds experienced over the past weeks were not adequately resisted and buildings, bridges or signs failed. The damage would have been catastrophic for thousands of people and devastating for the local economy.
Structural engineers have quietly gone about their business protecting the valley through their designs, which resist even unpredictable winds with great vigor. Their work protects residents and visitors, as well as financial investments in our city. They have proven their dedication to their industry and the community. They are the unsung heroes.
Dan Campbell is principal structural engineer for Las Vegas Engineers.