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

Earthquakes have baffled civilizations for thousands of years.
In ancient times, many civilizations believed earthquakes were the result of giant animals, angry gods, and giants.
We now know and understand much about our world’s mighty tectonic forces. We have engineered approaches to retrofits that can help save both people and buildings. We have even developed an early-warning system to alert people seconds before a major earthquake strikes.
But there is still so much more to learn.
Listed below are four common responses we’re heard from apartment owners when faced with the prospect of retrofitting their buildings to protect them from earthquake damage.

No. 1: It is too expensive.

The University of California at San Diego, home to the world’s largest outdoor shake table, has found that retrofits are quite effective in helping to control or even prevent damage.

Researchers at CalTech determined that they are make good business sense in terms of ROI.

For every dollar spent in retrofitting soft-story structures, property owners can expect to save up to seven dollars, they found. And that study didn’t factor in loss to contents, alternate living expenses or deaths and injuries – all of which would have significantly increased the cost-to-benefit ratios.

FEMA found similar cost benefits in a two-year analysis of seismic retrofit scenarios applied to a variety of building types in locations throughout the United States.

In another CalTech study, researchers calculated that seismic retrofits are cost-effective when expected annualized loss would be reduced by 50 percent or more at a cost that would equal no more than 10 percent of the replacement cost of a building.

Following that formula, a typical cost-benefit analysis would fall far below that 10 percent ratio:

  • Apartment Building Value: $250,000 per unit
  • 10-Unit Apartment Building: $2.5 million
  • Retrofit Cost (10 units): $75,000
  • Percentage of Value: 3%

No. 2: My tenants will have to be relocated

In most instances, earthquake retrofit construction can take place without having to relocate any tenants.

It’s important to look for a seismic engineering and construction company that can accommodate tenants while doing the work.

Much of that entails their construction schedule, whether they cover and clean up their work to avoid disrupting tenants during non-business hours, and if they have experience in completing retrofits on time, on budget and without any complications in Tenant Habitability Plan process.

No. 3: I will lose parking spaces if I get the work done

It’s true that seismic retrofits of soft-story structures generally focus on stabilizing the building at the ground-floor level where the parking is located. But that doesn’t mean that spaces need to be lost.

Proper engineering studies identify the most effective and economical option for each individual property. When the engineering is done right, the project can be completed with minimal impact to the structure and its residents. It also avoids permitting delays and/or the need for costly revisions in the future.

No. 4: There’s no rush, I have plenty of time

Saving lives and reducing liability should be everyone’s primary reason for completing a retrofit, but the reality is that we all gamble with life and limb when it comes to spending money on things designed to prevent calamity.

Many of our clients are motivated by protecting their investment and the safety of their tenants. They also know that as the deadline draws nearer, costs for the retrofit work will increase and construction timelines will be far more complicated and uncertain.

There are liability issues to consider as well. Case law has now set a precedent that puts the responsibility for death, injury or property damage in the hands of the property owner.

Retrofitting your building now could provide significant savings later on.