-Appeared on Apartment Association California, Southern Cities (AACSC).

I recently ran across the following question from a Los Angeles woman on Yelp:

Q: Is there a way to know how safe your apartment building is in case of an earthquake?

One respondent stated that if her apartment is still standing, it’s survived everything until now — wrongly implying that the building would have collapsed in earlier quakes if it were vulnerable.

Another response came from someone much more practical and informed:

A: There are many complex factors to consider – soil type, foundation type, building design, building materials, retrofitting, etc. And of course, the severity of the quake and distance from the epicenter makes the most difference.

Science and engineering are the best predictors of how a structure will hold up in a major earthquake.

A well-prepared engineering study is the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your building against earthquake damage.

That’s why it’s so important that the engineering study you have done on your building is thorough and complete in its analysis.

Nearly all California cities, when outlining the steps required for a seismic retrofit of soft-story buildings, require engineering plans to assess and map out the existing conditions of the building and to explain the logic behind the work proposed to retrofit it.

Benefits of an Engineering Study

Engineering requires hard data and analysis. A thorough and precise engineering study can identify the most effective way to fortify a building and preserve valuable parking spaces. It can also help to lessen other impacts to tenants.

  • Engineering studies are designed to meet the requirements of a building code as specified in an ordinance
  • They pinpoint the precise scope of work to be done so apartment owners can use that information to get multiple bids on a project that is mathematically and technically verified to work
  • Well-prepared engineering studies avoid permitting delays and/or the need for costly revisions later on
  • Doing the job right helps to reduce liabilities, should something go wrong

The first step is to create what is called “as-built” drawings of the structure. These illustrations indicate all details of the building. Everything from the spacing between the windows to the locations of the walls and columns are factored into the design of the project.
The benefits of a detailed and complete engineering plan are clear:

  • Proper engineering optimizes the cost of a retrofit
  • It minimizes the disturbance to the building occupants
  • And it provides better performance with a retrofit that follows its plan

Finally, do your due diligence and check on the credentials and experience of anyone you choose to work with.

Make certain the engineer is licensed and insured.

The State Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists maintains a database of the names of individuals with professional licenses with the state. Visit www.bpelsg.ca.gov for more information. If the name you’re searching for isn’t there, call 1-866-780-5370 to make sure the omission is not due to a clerical error.

Finally, make sure the engineering firm you choose has sufficient experience in soft-story retrofits. Contact multiple references on the company’s performance and verify that the firm completed at least three projects similar to yours in the past year.

Earthquake retrofits are only as solid as the engineering behind them. Make sure yours is done right.