Building practices in Chile and Nepal underscore the importance of retrofits to withstand seismic activity

Every month of every year, an average of as many as 10 major quakes between a magnitude 6.0 and 6.9 strike somewhere on our planet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The level of destruction resulting from this seismic activity is frequently varied and often correlates to local building standards.

This is true when comparing two quakes that struck in recent years: An 8.2 magnitude earthquake in Chile in 2014, and a 7.8 magnitude tremor that struck Nepal the following year. Both quakes were similar in their intensity, but their outcomes were vastly different. Nepal: Destruction Was Half the Country’s GDP The Nepal quake resulted in approximately 9,000 deaths, many thousands more injured, and more than 600,000 structures destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. Delivery of aid and support was complicated by the destruction, and the economic damage was determined to be nearly half the entire country’s gross domestic product.

Seismologists had warned in 2013 that a major quake of up to an 8 magnitude was due to happen sometime within the next hundred years. Government officials felt they didn’t have to worry about quakes anymore because they had experienced another major incident in 1934, according to an article in the Washington Post.

Chile: Lessons from World’s Largest Earthquake Ever

Conversely, Chile is a region frequented by earthquakes, and in 1960 it suffered the largest earthquake ever recorded: a 9.5-magnitude quake that resulted in the deaths of 5,500 people. Ever since that disaster, the country has been working diligently to upgrade its buildings.

The 8.2 quake that struck the South American country in 2014 resulted in six lives lost. About 80,000 people were displaced by the destruction of 2,500 homes, news reports said. The lesson to be learned from all this is that while people can’t control the size, frequency or location of an earthquake, they can do a lot to save lives and reduce losses through updated building codes and seismic retrofits.

Seismic retrofitting of vulnerable structures is critical to reducing risk, a Federal Emergency Management Agency study recently found. “It’s important for protecting the lives and assets of building occupants and the continuity of their work,” FEMA reported. “On the whole, communities with more retrofitted structures can recover from earthquakes more rapidly.” It’s not just a matter of protecting life, limb and property.

Depending on the damage caused from an earthquake, it can impact the local economy as well. Displaced residents will have to be put up in emergency shelters. Many will be unable to go to their jobs, or their places of employment may have closed due to damage as well. Public services such as fire, police and emergency medical care can become more challenging to deliver, and commerce can experience a standstill.

Hoping to avoid this, Officials throughout the State of California are pushing for building upgrades on either a voluntary or mandatory basis. The State of California Seismic Safety Commission in 2000 prepared a report on lessons learned from major quakes striking Turkey, Greece and Taiwan in 1999.

Damage from the Turkey quake was shocking: with more than 211,000 people displaced and forced to live in tent cities for more than a year. “Each of these events provides a reminder that major earthquakes can strike urban areas without notice and with devastating impacts,” the report said. “These earthquakes provide inescapable evidence that California must continue to prepare for major seismic events to strike.”

Here in the Greater Los Angeles region, cities that have formally adopted or are considering adopting seismic retrofit ordinances include Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West Hollywood. For more information, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles has teamed up with Optimum Seismic on a series of educational seminars to help inform members and address any questions about seismic retrofit laws, policies, procedures and programs.

You are welcome to attend one of our upcoming seminars:
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 22; and 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20
Where: AAGLA Headquarters, 621 S. Westmoreland Ave., Los Angeles
Please call us at 323-OPTIMUM to RSVP or for a list of other upcoming dates and locations.