Seismic codes are part of the International Building Code (IBC), which was created about 20 years ago. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, studies concluded that although buildings survived structurally, much of the MEP equipment (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) had failed. As a result, the buildings were rendered useless. Now, we're finding more and more seismic codes and requirements in projects. Engineers have to plan for seismic and vibration controls, especially on big projects.
The responsibilities for this specification start off with the structural engineer, who assigns a seismic rating code for the particular building. There are various steps and methods to determine how the equipment should be attached to the structure or if it requires a certain level of certification. It primarily has to do with what type of building the equipment is installed in.
Let's say they are essential service buildings as defined by the IBC. For example, hospitals, emergency care facilities, wastewater treatment plants, or national defense facilities are considered essential buildings. Importantly, buildings and laboratories containing highly toxic substances (such as biosafety labs) also fall into this category. These buildings will require a higher level of certification.
You might have seen a seismic zone map of North America. California is obviously a very severe seismic activity zone, for example. The structural engineer determines the building's importance factor, which determines whether or not the equipment need to be anchored down. Here in Montreal, you might not think of the area as being a seismically active zone. It actually is, even though it's not as serious as California.
When new hospitals are being built here, they have to be designed according to Canadian seismic building code standards. For example, the vibration isolators that the equipment is on have to be seismically rated. Special anchoring considerations for the equipment and roof structure might have to be certified and stamped by a professional engineer in the state or province it's located in.
Unfortunately, there are occasions when equipment is installed in new constructions without consideration to the seismic specifications. Once the equipment has been installed, it's too late to address these specifications. That's why it's important to make sure everything is addressed beforehand.
Another consideration that's equally important is hurricane and high wind areas of the world. (This is also part of the International Building Code.) There are rules and regulations about how the equipment might have to be certified or at least properly anchored to withstand these conditions. It's very similar to how seismic requirements are used for HVAC equipment, but implemented in a slightly different manner. There are wind loading characteristics, for example, where the equipment might need guide wire and guide wire collars.
At the end of the day, it's important for end users and engineers to educate themselves about how the code requirements apply to them. The cost to replace systems within the building is likely the most expensive cost to insurers after a seismic or hurricane event.