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Is Los Angeles Ready for “THE BIG ONE”?

Is Los Angeles Ready for “THE BIG ONE”?
 

The research has been done and the verdict is out:  more than one thousand older concrete buildings in metropolitan Los Angeles are vulnerable to major destruction and fifty or more will be completely destroyed during a powerful earthquake.  History has shown us what can happen and it is time to strengthen the city’s buildings before the expected “BIG ONE” occurs. When scientists and the news media refer to “THE BIG ONE”, they are talking about an expected rupture that will occur along the San Andreas Fault.  It is expected to be a megathrust quake with a possible 7.8 magnitude that will last seem like it lasts an eternity – between a minute and a half and two minutes long.

Many scientists believe that this 7.8 temblor will occur sometime in the next 25-30 years.  If that prediction becomes a reality, current estimates predict close to 8,000 people could be residing or working in commercial concrete properties that are not strong enough to withstand the power of such seismic activity.  Without strengthening these older concrete buildings, the loss of life and property will surely be devastating.

This week, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, released a detailed emergency safety plan called ”Resiliency by Design”.  Instead of waiting for the “BIG ONE”, the mayor wants the city to be prepared and strengthened beforehand.  In a news conference to discuss his city-wide earthquake preparedness plan, he outlined several major steps to decrease the city’s vulnerabilities.

Seismic Retrofitting Required

Because of the age of many structures in the city, the mayor’s proposal includes retrofitting several types of older buildings that are known to be at risk when strong seismic activity occurs.  Seismic retrofitting would be required to be completed within five years for all soft story buildings constructed before 1980.  These are often wood-framed, commercial apartment buildings that are built above open garage/parking areas.  The open areas below the first level do not provide enough support for the building as the earth moves, causing the buildings to collapse.  Tenants do not have enough time to move out of the building and are caught inside as the floors above collapse.

Unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings represent a common construction method used before building safety codes were revised with engineering and construction advances.  This type of building was constructed typically before 1980;  URM properties are susceptible to major damage or collapse during major earthquakes, as seen in the 2011 Christchurch and Tohoku quakes, not to mention the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California.  The mayor’s plan calls for buildings constructed with this method to be retrofitted within 25 years.

Earthquake Resistant Water Pipes

The mayor’s preparedness plan includes upgrading the current water system throughout the city with earthquake resistant pipes and materials.  Los Angeles currently has approximately 7000 miles of corroding, old water pipes.  These pipes are already suffering leaks and breaks every day, and are constantly in need of repair.  The city water system is not strong enough today to withstand movement from a powerful quake.  Currently, there is an earthquake resistant piping system that has been used successfully in Japan for more than 40 years.  The Lost Angeles Department of Water and Power is currently testing the system in several spots.  If this system passes rigorous testing and a decision is made to convert the current water system, it will be a long, expensive process to upgrade the entire city.

In addition, Mayor Garcetti’s plan includes creating a back-up water system for fighting fires after an earthquake strikes.  This piece of the plan is meant to ensure that the city firefighters will not be left unable, as they were during the Northridge earthquake in 1994, to do their job.  During the 1994 earthquake aftermath, firefighters were helpless due to ruptured water pipes and empty fire hydrants in areas where fires are burning.  The mayor’s plan calls for ensuring that the necessary water is available when necessary, once the seismic activity ends.

Meeting Communication Needs

In today’s world, communication is a must.  After the tragic earthquake and tsunami hit Japan several years ago, citizens in parts of the country were left without any way to communicate.  The mayor’s earthquake preparedness plan calls for strengthening the city’s network of communication (phone and Internet) to ensure residents will be able to communicate with those who can help, not to mention touching base with concerned family or friends.  One proposal included in the plan includes the creation of wireless Internet access via solar power to be set up in schools and within other designated areas within the city.  During emergency situations, this solar powered access would be made available for city residents to use as needed.

No matter what proposals and plans are being discussed within the local and state government, commercial properties should be regularly inspected for structural integrity. While we can’t exactly predict when a massive earthquake (“The BIG ONE”) will strike, we do know that buildings experience aging and stress that can weaken the structure.  In addition, we also know that older buildings in the Los Angeles area often do not meet the current, more stringent building safety codes.  If you are a commercial property owner, your objective should be to have a strong, well-maintained building that can survive the underground movement of the earth with minimal impacts, including property loss, injury and the loss of life.  Seismic retrofitting provides the maintenance necessary to strengthen older buildings.  If the mayor’s proposals are implemented, commercial properties owners with these older buildings will be required to schedule a seismic retrofit.  Beat the rush and call the professional experts at Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit today.  Reinforce your property BEFORE it is too late!

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