Soft-story apartment and commercial buildings are among the structures most vulnerable to extensive damage during earthquakes.

Some 100,000 of these structures exist in California, according to the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California.  The U.S. Resiliency Council has estimated that approximately 2.5-million people live in these buildings.

The grim reality is that the next “Big One” can strike this region at any moment leaving massive death and destruction in its wake.

Against this backdrop, Optimum Seismic has been working to perform seismic retrofits to enhance the structural safety of these soft-story buildings since 1984.

More than a dozen cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have enacted ordinances requiring seismic retrofits to be performed on soft-story buildings to protect the public.  Thousands of seismic retrofits have already been completed across California. Momentum is growing for similar regulations as at least five additional cities are currently considering seismic ordinances to enhance structural safety.

Seismic ordinances aim to ensure soft-story buildings comply with current building standards for seismic safety and are structurally safe to protect the public from future earthquakes. Soft-story building retrofits play a key role in efforts to make California communities safer.

There are many benefits to building owners starting their retrofit sooner, rather than later:

  • Retrofitting protects lives, property and your assets
  • Retrofits help reduce owner’s liability for injury or death resulting from earthquakes
  • UC San Diego tested earthquake impacts on soft-story structures built over ground-level parking, and found retrofits quite effective in controlling or preventing damage
  • Insurance companies may offer more favorable terms for retrofitted buildings
  • Construction costs will rise with demand after the “Big One”
  • Special property-assessed financing may be available to qualified owners

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Northridge Earthquake

Some owners may be reluctant to start their seismic retrofits, but here are some reasons why it’s best to act promptly:

  • Retrofits protect your assets
  • Retrofits protect your income
  • Retrofits reduce your potential liability
  • Earthquakes are inevitable in California.
  • It’s not if a major quake will strike, but when.
  • Researchers at Caltech say for every dollar spent on soft-story retrofits, property owners can expect to save up to 7 dollars. The study did not include loss to contents, alternate living expenses or deaths and injuries – all of which would have significantly increased the cost-to-benefit ratios.
  • Owners of the Northridge Meadows Apartment complex that collapsed during the 1994 Northridge quake settled multiple claims filed by the families of the victims.
  • After the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, building owners paid millions in damages to the families of people injured or killed from building failures.

Building owners in Paso Robles paid $2 million when found liable for two deaths during the San Simeon earthquake of 2003. A jury found property owners negligent for not taking reasonable steps to make the building safer. A state appeals court upheld the verdict in 2010

What Constitutes a Soft-Story Building?

When a building has an open first floor (such as ground level parking, subterranean parking, or an open storefront with glass and minimal structural reinforcement) on at least one elevation, this qualifies as a soft-story condition and is thus eligible for a soft story retrofit.

Typical soft-story retrofit programs –– which are conducted by our team that has nearly 40 years of commercial and seismic retrofit experience include:

  • Installation of steel moment frame, concrete footing and drag line

  • Installation of plywood shear walls

  • Installation of continuity ties

  • Removal and replacement of finishes as required for above work

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What are the Steps to Getting a Soft-Story Retrofit?

For a free consultation, turn to the soft-story experts and contact us today!