What Can San Diego Learn from the Anchorage Earthquake?

What Can San Diego Learn from the Anchorage Earthquake?

By |2019-01-08T00:15:21+00:00January 8th, 2019|earthquake preparedness, Earthquake Protection, Earthquake Retrofits|

Minimal damage in the Anchorage earthquake is attributed to action taken to upgrade building codes after the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. (Credit: USGS)

“Here’s who to thank that we all survived the quake on Friday,” a headline in the Anchorage Daily News recently read.

Striking images from the Nov. 30 earthquake there show Vine Road near Wasilla fractured and broken as the earth beneath the two-lane highway gave way. In other places, walls cracked, pipes broke, dishes shattered. But given the force of this temblor, the impacts — with no fatalities — were relatively mild.

Keep in mind that this 7.0-magnitude behemoth was larger than the 1994 Northridge and 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakes, which caused a combined 120 or more fatalities, 12,457 injuries and as much as $55 billion in damage.

Whom does Anchorage have to thank that they survived the quake?

“An unsung cadre of engineers,” the opinion piece stated. The writer praised the city and its leaders for learning from the devastation the city suffered from the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964, and becoming more resilient against the next “Big One.”

It is true that Alaska is a more sparsely populated area, so naturally, damage would be considerably less than what a Southern California quake of that magnitude would bring.

But the fact is that the city of Anchorage took definite steps to prepare itself, knowing that other major earthquakes would come. Stricter building codes and retrofits occurring since 1964 were instrumental in minimizing the damage from this recent quake. No doubt they saved lives, too.

California, like Alaska, has a long history of large earthquakes, and fortunately for everyone, many cities in our state are also enacting ordinances requiring retrofits of buildings proven to be vulnerable in an earthquake.

The Threat in San Diego

Locally, seismologists predict that the Rose Canyon fault could cause a 6.9-magnitude fault that would kill hundreds or even thousands.

This is due in large part to the fact that building codes for the city were relatively lax in the early years , based on the perception that there are fewer earthquakes here.

These lower standards, particularly in light of new discoveries about the Rose Canyon fault, have put the city very much at risk.

The tradeoff, seismologist Lucy Jones explained to the San Diego Union-Tribune, is that the city now has more vulnerable buildings and infrastructure and a new and emerging threat of a major fault lying under its densely populated neighborhoods.

She said San Diego should consider following Los Angeles’ lead on building safety. A new law there requires mandatory retrofits of quake-vulnerable buildings.

Retrofits Benefit Building Owners, Society Alike
It’s universally understood that safer structures benefit society on a social, economic and environmental level.

Lesser known is that retrofitting a vulnerable building makes sense for building owners, too.

Retrofitted buildings with little or no damage following a major quake will continue to provide the income owners need to pay the mortgage on the property. This is an important point because apartment owners will still be required to pay on their mortgage even if their property is red-tagged.

On the other hand, if your property is red-tagged, you will be financially responsible potential liabilities, relocation assistance, demolition and cleanup of the property — all without the income necessary to cover the mortgage.

Researchers at Caltech recently determined that for every dollar spent in retrofitting soft-story structures, property owners could expect to save up to $7, and that study didn’t factor in loss to contents, alternate living expenses or deaths and injuries – all of which would have significantly increased the cost-to-benefit ratios.

In a separate study, the university determined that seismic retrofits are cost-effective when projected annualized loss would be reduced by 50 percent or more at a cost that would equal no more than 10 percent of the replacement cost of a building.

Throughout Southern California, literally thousands of building owners are taking steps to protect their assets and tenants from disaster. Being informed is the first step.

If you believe your apartment building is at risk, contact a reputable and experienced seismic retrofit company and ask for a free consultation. Knowing the risks and benefits associated with your building is an important part of responsible property management.

About the Author:

Ali Sahabi
Ali Sahabi has been a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC) since 1993, and is a principal at Optimum Seismic, Inc. He has completed hundreds of seismic retrofitting and adaptive reuse projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.

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