It only takes a glance at the news to see what earthquakes can do to buildings unprepared for strong shaking. The cracks, crumbling and total collapses of walls, floors, ceilings and facades can kill hundreds of people, leave thousands homeless, and disrupt critical infrastructure for months or longer. Many earthquake-damaged buildings are total losses, which spells a major loss of money and time. Your buildings can, however, undergo a seismic retrofit process enabling them to withstand powerful earthquakes, protect the people inside, and prevent substantial property loss. In a major metro area like Los Angeles, situated right in the middle of a major earthquake zone, property owners and managers must build earthquake resilient buildings, or have older buildings retrofitted to earthquake-resilient standards.
Why Make a Building Earthquake-Resilient: 5 Reasons
The following five points illustrate why it’s so important to perform earthquake retrofits on buildings in Southern California:
1. Earthquake Resilient Buildings Can Withstand Repeated Aftershocks
Earthquakes come in packs. Usually, there’s an initial shock that includes waves of side-to-side motion that can last several seconds at a time. The initial shock wave destabilizes the ground. As the earth settles after the first earthquake, hundreds of small to large aftershocks, some approaching the magnitude of the original quake, usually follow. That side-to-side motion is particularly hard on buildings, with forces that snap, shatter and collapse critical structural elements. As aftershocks continue, the damage only gets worse. So, it’s not enough that a building can cope with just one earthquake. Buildings must be able to withstand a chain of earthquakes, often within a short time frame of days, weeks and even months. Seismic retrofitting can help large buildings endure these side-to-side waves without failing.
2. Earthquake-Resilient Buildings Promote Business Continuity
When a large commercial building sustains major earthquake damage, businesses and organizations operating from that building are thrown into limbo, often indefinitely. Aside from the enormous repair costs, many businesses scramble to salvage what they can, and struggle to find alternative arrangements. This costs an enormous amount of time and money, which can often end a business entirely.
Doing business in an earthquake resilient building, however, makes things easier. As the structural integrity of the building remains strong through aftershocks, everyone can keep working, bearing with minor inconveniences instead of catastrophic failures.
3. Seismic Retrofitting and Earthquake Engineered Buildings Work for Infrastructure and Multi-level Buildings
Large, multi-story commercial and residential buildings in urban areas, as well as major infrastructure like bridges, are especially vulnerable to initial earthquakes and their aftershocks. Preparation is key for cities that want to avoid major service disruptions and deaths from failed buildings, bridges, etc. For nearly four decades, Optimum Seismic has been working with companies and municipalities in downtown Los Angeles and throughout Southern California to complete seismic retrofit projects on major infrastructure and multi-story buildings. Using the latest earthquake engineering technology, we have completed more than 3,500 projects that will keep communities safer when the next earthquake hits.
5. Earthquake Resilient Buildings Save Lives
The bottom line for building earthquake resilient buildings is saving lives. There is nothing worse for a community than watching a climbing death toll from collapsed buildings and infrastructure during a disaster, especially when many of these tragic deaths may have been prevented with earthquake retrofit engineering.
How to Make a Building Earthquake Resilient
So, just how can we make buildings earthquake resilient? The process differs between types of buildings. The following five types are some of the most common Optimum Seismic works with here in Southern California:
1. Soft-Story Buildings
When a building has an open first floor (such as ground level parking, subterranean parking, or an open storefront with glass and minimal structural reinforcement) on at least one elevation, this qualifies as a soft-story condition and is thus eligible for a soft story retrofit.
Typical soft-story retrofit programs –– which are conducted by our team that has nearly 40 years of commercial and seismic retrofit experience. When a building has an open first floor (such as ground level parking, subterranean parking, or an open storefront with glass and minimal structural reinforcement) on at least one elevation, this qualifies as a soft-story condition and is thus eligible for a soft story retrofit.
2. Unreinforced Masonry Buildings
Not only are these older buildings still common in Southern California, FEMA considers these the most vulnerable to seismic events. Unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings are often classic, older buildings constructed of brick, stone, adobe, clay tiles or hollow concrete bricks. The walls are usually not reinforced, so they can easily fail during an earthquake. They also usually have decorative facades and ornamentation that can fall and crush whatever is underneath or nearby at the time of an earthquake. These materials are both heavy and stiff, making them snap and collapse when the side-to-side waves of an earthquake hit. Installing bracing systems made of reinforced steel, upgrading URM with stronger composite materials, preventing independent movement of building elements by melding them together, and securing the building to its foundations can all bring these buildings up to earthquake building code.
3. Tilt-Up Buildings
Tilt up buildings are common worksite, industry and business locations. Ones built before 2000 are most vulnerable. Often housing machinery, business inventory and workers, any failure of these tilt-up buildings can cause severe financial loss, as well as tragic loss of life. Fortunately, seismic retrofitting can make tilt-up buildings earthquake resilient by adding steel-braced frames, concrete footings, roof nailing, continuity ties and roof-to-wall anchors.
4. Steel-Frame Buildings
Los Angeles has many steel-frame office buildings, high rises, etc. When the 1994 Northridge quake struck, many steel-frame buildings failed due to brittle steel fracturing at welded and riveted joints connecting columns and beams. We can improve the earthquake performance of steel-frame buildings by creating a lateral system or dampers that bolster the moment frames during side-to-side shaking. Optimum can also significantly improve strength in the connections between beams and columns using chevron bracing and other techniques.
5. Non-Ductile Concrete Buildings
Older, non-ductile concrete buildings are incredibly common, but many are not ready for the next quake. In fact, Los Angeles seismic ordinances dictate that any of these buildings constructed before 1977 must have seismic retrofitting done to save lives and property because most of them are too brittle and susceptible to collapse without additional braces, base isolators, shear walls and column wrapping.
Prepare Your Buildings for Earthquakes Now
Contact Optimum Seismic for a free consultation on your building’s earthquake retrofitting needs today. It’s your first step towards being prepared. As one of the most qualified seismic retrofitting firms in Los Angeles, Optimum Seismic’s team can bring your building up to stringent earthquake codes, save you money and prevent loss of life. Schedule an appointment today: (833) 978-7664.