-Appeared on Apartment Association Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).

The recent Mars landing of NASA’s robotic lander InSight means we can now look forward to two years of data from seismic monitoring and underground temperature readings that will unlock mysteries about the origin of the red planet, and by association, the Earth.

Unlike our world, where land is continually shifting through tectonics and other forces, Mars is believed to have remained largely static, creating a geologic “time machine” for scientists, according to U.S. News and World Report.

How does this information relate to our world, today?

Direct influences will be difficult to realize, but with 15 to 20 tectonic plates moving continuously around the Earth’s globe — and California racing across the planet’s surface at an unfathomable 2 inches a year — understanding the dynamics of seismology and its impacts on our environment will help in understanding future threats and planning against them.

What we already know

It’s been 2 ½ years since Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law what was at the time the nation’s most sweeping seismic retrofit law, and one year since the rollout of mandatory retrofits started taking place.

Since then, more than 12,500 soft-story apartments and condos have been retrofitted, according to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety’s latest figures for Nov. 1, 2018.

That figure, in raw terms, represents literally thousands of people whose lives, safety and security are protected.

It’s also representative of a growing number of apartment owners who recognize the benefits to getting the work done. (Similar trends are being recorded in cities that do not have a retrofit law in place.)

These building owners know that if their building is vulnerable to damage or collapse in an earthquake, it makes good business sense to upgrade the structure — enhancing its value and protecting its equity and revenue-generation.

What Does the Process Entail?

It’s important to begin any seismic retrofit with an engineering study to identify the most cost-effective approach to fortifying a building. It can also plan for optimization of the project by preserving valuable parking spaces and lessening the 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

Hazardous materials testing is also required of all buildings before work can begin to ensure the safety of workers, tenants and the environment. Another requirement for many cities is the completion of a Tenant Habitability Plan. This is an important check put in place to ensure that residents are not unduly disrupted during the retrofit process.

Every Building is Different

It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to seismic retrofitting. In fact, there is a lot of science that goes into the process.

Even though two structures may look identical from the outside, each has its unique conditions – based on the overall structure of the building, the materials used to build it, the placement of windows and doors, even the soil beneath the structure can impact how a building reacts during an earthquake.

The University of California at San Diego, home to the world’s largest outdoor shake table, has done repeated tests replicating the effects of a quake on a variety of structures. They recently conducted experiments on the performance of soft-story structures – buildings constructed over ground-level parking – and found that retrofits are quite effective in helping to control or even prevent damage.

You can find several videos about earthquake retrofits by searching online, or contact a reputable seismic retrofit company for a free evaluation.