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

Is your apartment building located within a fault, landslide or liquefaction zone?

The United States Geological Survey has published an interactive map online, enabling the public to search by property address to determine the earthquake risks associated with specific land parcels.

Green areas on this hazards map indicate liquefaction zones that are particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage. (Credit USGS)

Properties located on or near a fault or liquefaction zone are particularly at risk of damage in an earthquake. Visit the California Earthquake Hazards Zone Application Map at https://maps.conservation.ca.gov/cgs/EQZApp/app/.

Located within a hazard zone?

California is crisscrossed with active faults, putting virtually everyone at some type of risk.
But if your apartment building is listed within a fault, liquefaction or landslide zone, it is important to educate yourself about the real risks associated with the property and the measures that can be taken to significantly reduce the threat of those dangers.

Fault zone: If your property lies within a fault zone, it is at risk of structural damage from one side of the fault moving away from the other. An earthquake fault is a fracture in the Earth’s surface that can be displaced from movement along either or both sides of the fault.

This movement can shake or rip apart buildings, and in extreme cases it can even tear open the ground.

Liquefaction zone: Soil liquefaction occurs when water-saturated earth loses its strength and stiffness due to ground-shaking of an earthquake.

This is what happened to cause the dramatically collapsed roadway in the Anchorage earthquake late last year. Photographs of Vine Road near Wasilla showed a deep crevasse in the roadway where liquefaction resulted in the land giving way beneath the pavement. Simply put, the shaking causes the ground to move like liquid, putting structures above it at risk.

A large part of the San Fernando Valley lies within a liquefaction zone.

Landslide zone: A landslide zone indicates a higher likelihood of an earthquake-induced landslide that could result in property damage by either compromising the foundation of a structure, or having earth from above slide into an adjacent property.

“When the ground breaks under an existing building, there’s a higher chance that the building will collapse,” Tim McCrink, supervising engineering geologist and program manager for seismic hazards for the California Geological Survey told the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are three factors to consider when determining your property’s seismic risk. They include: the level of the seismic hazard; the number of people affected by the hazard; and the vulnerability of these people and potential loss of property value to the hazards.
The benefit of seismic retrofits
If your apartment building was constructed in the 1970s or earlier, it is probably not up to the latest seismic safety codes. A seismic retrofit can help to:

  • Protect your building’s equity: Avoid damage that could reduce its value.
  • Guard against liability: Demonstrate reasonable care to protect your property and your tenants.
  • Preserve a building’s cash flow: Protecting your building means your tenants will be able to continue living there and paying rent after a major quake.
  • Avoid demolition costs: Demolition of a building can cost $10 a square foot or even more, particularly if hazardous materials such as lead or asbestos are present.
  • Qualify a structure for earthquake insurance: Many apartment owners are now opting for earthquake insurance, which can sometimes help to cover costs associated with reconstruction and loss of income following a quake. Most carriers require retrofits of older buildings before they will cover them.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in a 2014 study, cited multiple benefits to having a vulnerable building retrofitted.

“If you live or work in retrofitted structures,” FEMA determined, “you’re less likely to be injured during an earthquake. After the earthquake, you’re also more likely to have a home and a job to which you can quickly return. Businesses that use retrofitted buildings are more likely to survive damaging earthquakes and to sustain shorter business interruptions and fewer inventory losses.”

Most apartment owners have worked very hard for their property. It’s what they rely on for their retirement, and it’s definitely in their best interest to protect it.

Keep yourself informed about the potential risks of earthquakes not only to your building, but to your own fiscal health and well-being.