The U.S. embassy in Haiti is one of the rare significant structures in Port-au-Prince to have survived the Jan. 12, 7.0 magnitude earthquake with only minor damage, none of it structural.

Construction work on Port-au-Prince embassy in 2007.

As a result, the embassy has become an important base for several relief efforts.

The embassy is a relatively new structure. It was built as a design-build project by Fluor Corp., as part of the U.S. State Dept’s overhaul of its global facilities. Construction started on the 134,000 sq-ft office building with its 54,874 sq ft of support structures in early 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a cost of $109 million.

As with all new diplomatic facilities, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Building Operations specified the embassy be engineered to adhere to the International Building Code and also to an OBO specific code supplement. The supplement covers site-specific design requirements for each location where U.S. posts are built.

The supplement also details building design requirements including gravity, snow, wind, and earthquake loads, as well as blast protection.

Rod Evans, OBO’s embassy project director, says the preferred earthquake-resisting system, to include the one used in Port-au-Prince, is reinforced concrete shear walls. All other building systems, including mechanical, electrical and fire protection, must also be constructed to withstand the stresses of an earthquake.

The embassy in Port-au-Prince was designed for “high” seismic design criteria as well as wind loading of 45 meters/sec (100 miles per hour).

Evans said when he heard that the facility only had minor non-structural damage after the earthquake, he was not surprised. “I would have been amazed if it didn’t survive,” he says.

The embassy remained fully functional in all aspects both during and after the earthquake, he says. Power stayed on, communications were up and water and air systems continued to operate.