Buildings That House Thousands of People Could Collapse in a Major Earthquake. What Are Cities and Counties Doing to Prepare?

If they’ve told us once, they’ve told us a million times. The Big One is coming. Are our municipalities doing enough to get prepared?

One of the most important steps cities can take to mitigate future devastation from an earthquake is to shore up their most vulnerable structures. But a number of cities, especially smaller ones, are falling short, leaving many people vulnerable to injury or death.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Los Angeles has a mandatory seismic retrofit law for wood-frame apartments and concrete buildings. Long Beach, the county’s second-largest city, does not, and neither do the rest of L.A. County’s 10 largest cities by population: Santa Clarita, Glendale, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona, Torrance, Pasadena and El Monte.

San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Fremont require apartments with flimsy ground-floor construction to be strengthened. Yet other Bay Area cities in the heart of California’s booming tech region, including Palo Alto and Burlingame, have not acted.

San Jose, California’s third-largest city, doesn’t even know where its vulnerable buildings are located, but it has applied for a grant to create an inventory.

On the Westside, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills have all passed some kind of retrofit law recently, following reports about the danger from faults that run through the area. But in the South Bay, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach have not. Neither have some older cities in Orange County, including Anaheim, Fullerton and Santa Ana.

The situation is also frightening in parts of the Inland Empire where very few cities have completed necessary retrofits. No retrofit laws have been passed for unincorporated L.A. County either.

As the Times notes, state lawmakers are now eyeing statewide solutions. Bills that were rejected by Gov. Jerry Brown may find new life under Gov. Gavin Newsom, who implemented an ambitious retrofitting project as mayor of San Francisco. But they could also come at an enormous cost to landlords and renters.

The cost of doing nothing could also be devastating. In the event of a 7.8 earthquake in Southern California, the U.S. Geological Survey says we could see the partial or full collapse of some 50 concrete structures and five high-rises housing 7,500 and 5,000 people respectively.

“We have a housing crunch right now,” noted Torrance Mayor Patrick Furey whose city has applied for a seismic inventory grant, “and if we lose those houses, they’re lost even longer.”

As a solution, some cities are trying to entice owners to make life-saving changes.

Oakland’s law allows owners to add one or two more units to an apartment building, above the current density cap. Oakland and Berkeley have also received funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to help offset retrofit costs.

Experts warn that the economy of California is threatened unless more is done to keep buildings up right after a quake.

“The destruction of tens of thousands of units of housing after a big earthquake will bring on a housing crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Garcetti said. “This is the rainy day. Spend it now before something bad happens.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times


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