-Appeared on San Diego County Apartment Association (SDCAA)

Last month’s 6.4- and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes were the largest this state has seen in the past 20 years.

Thankfully, due to the remoteness of the Ridgecrest area where they struck, there were no casualties and relatively little destruction.

What if they happened here in San Diego? Earthquakes of this size could happen anywhere within the state’s intricate web of volatile fault lines that crisscross our landscape. Clearly, with a more densely populated region filled with structures at risk of failing in an earthquake, the scenario here would have played out much differently.

The closer you are to a fault, the more likely you are to be impacted by seismic activity. Here in San Diego, the Rose Canyon Fault is our most ominous threat, but danger also looms from the San Andreas, San Jacinto and Elsinore Faults.

To find out the risks of your apartment being damaged in the next earthquake, it’s smart to have an engineering study done to assess the stability of the structure and its likelihood to remain habitable under extreme seismic shaking.

Science behind the numbers

Engineering for both new and existing structures relies on hard data, mathematics and fact.

An engineering study will identify the risks and the most effective way to fortify a building, based not only on the composition of the structure, but the quality of the ground it stands on.

If your structure is vulnerable to damage, engineering studies can also identify opportunities to minimize impacts on parking spaces, tenants and other concerns.

  • 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

About the process

The first step in completing a thorough engineering study 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

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 retrofits that reflect the building type of your property. 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. It’s best to find a company that offers in-house engineering, steel fabrication and construction. This will ensure a seamless transition through every step in the process.

A successful earthquake retrofit requires quality engineering, steel fabrication and construction. But a tenant-friendly attitude, adaptability to the needs of the people who live and work in the building, and adherence to a tenant habitability plan are other essentials that can make your retrofit a successful experience.

Start yours with an engineering study. Earthquake retrofits are only as solid as the research and data behind them. Make sure yours is done right.