seismic resistance

Californians urge scrutiny of seismic resistance

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Buildings with questionable seismic resistance will be more transparent in California if Governor Gerry Brown signs recently approved state legislation into law. Late last month, both the state Senate and Assembly endorsed bill AB 2681, calling for a statewide inventory of buildings deemed to be “potentially vulnerable” in a major earthquake.

As envisioned, local governments will be tasked with identifying the buildings and notifying their owners. Owners will then have to prove their buildings are sound before they can be removed from the list.

“California contains thousands of buildings that are known to present an unacceptably high earthquake risk of death, injury and damage based on their age, structural system, size and location,” the introductory context for the bill states. “The most recent California ShakeOut study estimates that a major quake along the San Andreas Fault could cause more than $200 billion dollars in physical and economic damage and could result in up to 1,800 or more deaths.”

Several emergency response agencies, local governments and professional, industry and citizens’ organizations are expressing support for the legislation. Proponents such as the Seismic Resilience Initiative (SRI) tally the social, economic and environmental benefits that could arise from compulsory reporting. In addition to an inventory of buildings, the bill also makes provision for a database of funding mechanisms, including federal, state and local incentives, bond issues and private grants that can be leveraged for seismic upgrades of building stock.

However, the League of California Cities is advocating that the Governor veto the bill, arguing that it would be an undue burden on local government. “While well intentioned, we simply do not have the resources to implement the provisions in this bill without an appropriate level of funding,” the League’s template lobbying letter states.

The law would apply where at least half of a city or county’s territory is within an area the U.S. Geological Survey has tagged for higher probability of a major earthquake. In such cases, local building officials would compile a list of potentially vulnerable buildings, based on design, materials and the building code in force at the time of construction. Owners of listed buildings would then be required to engage a professional engineer to assess the structure, and submit the results of the engineer’s report to local authorities.

Allowing time to identify buildings and for owners to respond, local jurisdictions would be expected to submit their finalized lists to California’s Office of Emergency Services by January 1, 2023. It will be responsible for overseeing the envisioned state inventory.

“Knowing a structure is at-risk of failure in an earthquake is the first step to protecting vulnerable buildings that make up much of the state’s more affordable housing stock,” SRI maintained in a release urging Governor Brown to enact the law. “Many seismically vulnerable buildings contain asbestos and lead, which, when released into the air and groundwater from crumbled rubble will burden landfills and pose a public health problem of potentially overwhelming impacts.”

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