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Tips for Seismic Retrofitting Los Angeles Buildings

Tips for Seismic Retrofitting Los Angeles Buildings

Californians have been waiting on the next “BIG ONE” for more than 60 years.  Most seismologists have been warning that another devastating earthquake will occur sometime within the next 30 years; this “BIG ONE”, forecast for the San Andreas fault, could end up being even bigger than earthquake experts previously thought. The most recent research is showing that a section of the fault is long overdue for a major seismic activity, and some scientists are saying that the southern portion of the fault is capable of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake that could run 340 miles from Monterey County to the Salton Sea.

Considering the images from the most recent catastrophic earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, most people are no longer taking this California warning lightly.  Minor seismic tremors serve as a reminder on a regular basis.  In recent years, educational programs have been promoted and regular earthquake drills have been designed and implemented to teach children what to do when the earth starts to roll and shake. Every Los Angeles resident understands that when the “BIG ONE” does occur, such an event will leave nothing untouched.  The undercurrent of responsibility to be personally prepared has simply become part of the culture on the West Coast.

When it comes to fiscal responsibility protecting commercial property from earthquake damage, however, the line is not so clear.  There’s a difference between what is required of property owners by the state and what simply needs to be done regardless of any law that may, or may not, be in place.  Due to issues in the current economy, commercial property owners are carefully watching their bottom line; optional maintenance is often one of the first budget areas that is put on hold when the economy seems shaky.  When considering safety/liability issues though, responsible commercial property owners should address their building’s weaknesses before major seismic activity occurs to prevent excessive damages, injuries, and deaths.  It is important for commercial building owners to understand that retrofitting before a devastating earthquake occurs is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of potential damage from collapsed roofs and other structural issues.

There are several questions to ask and decisions to make when considering a seismic retrofit for a commercial building located in Los Angeles:

    • Who should you hire to complete a seismic retrofitting?

      A benefit to fixing the weaknesses in a building before an earthquake happens is that the qualified contractors and professionals are more likely to be available to schedule the work during the most convenient time for the business.  Waiting until disaster strikes will significantly increase the wait time, not to mention the fact that the costs of clean-up and repair labor will steeply rise as demand soars. It is important to hire a seismic retrofitting contractor who is experienced and understands the nuances of working with tenants in occupied business spaces.  It is best to work with a contractor who specializes in commercial building retrofitting and who offers multiple maintenance services.  While a general contractor may want to bid on the retrofit project, it is typically not advisable to contract with a company that does not have the specific skills and experience needed to handle this type of complex job.

    • When is the best time to retrofit a building?

      Of course, the best answer to the timing question is this – “the sooner, the better”, since no one really knows for sure when the next major earthquake will strike.  Many commercial business owners choose to have large-scale maintenance and building improvements completed during the summer months when the weather is nice, the chance of rain is minimal, and the days are longer.

    • What repairs or building maintenance will be necessary during a seismic retrofitting?

      A thorough inspection should be completed by the seismic retrofitting contractor to identify potential weaknesses in the roof, walls, foundation, and non-structural elements of a building. Once a detailed task list and bid are put together, commercial property owners can work with the seismic retrofitting contractor to prioritize the repairs needed. Typical tasks that would be at the top of a priority list would include properly anchoring walls, floors, and beams, as needed, providing reinforcement for currently un-reinforced masonry, and properly anchoring roof structures.  Another important item that most likely will show up on the detailed task list would be securing all non-structural items; equipment, water heaters, and supply lines should all be located in marked zones and secured as much as possible.

While state and local governments provide basic educational information to keep residents safe during an earthquake, property owners are not required by law to update or maintain buildings past the minimum basic building codes.  In the long run, however, commercial property owners do have a responsibility to promote the safety and security of their property, including its occupants, machinery and inventory. The bottom line is that it is much more affordable to retrofit a building before an earthquake, providing greater tenant safety, rather than to deal with expensive damages and costly liability issues after the “BIG ONE” occurs.  To get more information on scheduling an inspection or to speak with an experienced Los Angeles area seismic retrofitting contractor, call Saunders Seismic Commercial Retrofit today!


Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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