UC Berkely shook the LA basin with their report of concrete buildings which did not meet the rigors of building codes and could collapse during an earthquake. Parents of school children read the report, researched their children’s schools and rushed to the District offices to allay their concerns. The report has caused an uproar among school risk managers, building inspectors and government officials, but I still maintain that the report is not the “big deal” as UC Berkeley made it out to be. Here’s two reasons why.
AB 300 of 1999
This problem has been looked at before. In 1999, the California legislature passed AB 300 which required the State to look at buildings which did not meet building code and were potentially dangerous during a large earthquake. In 2002, they released their report and just like in the UC Berkeley report – schools were on the list. A similar uproar began and the 7 letter word “retrofit” was thrown at building owners. Some of the buildings are darn-near impossible to retrofit and probably will never be able to. Hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs later, many of the buildings are still on the list and will be until they fall down. Another report won’t solve that problem.
They Haven’t Fallen Yet
The buildings in the latest UC Berkeley report are doomed to fail or at least 70 or so are. Of the 1,500+ buildings on the list, around 70 made the grade “total collapse” which is around 5% of the buildings. But those 70 buildings are still standing and they have stood thru the Northridge quake and many others. So, why didn’t they fall? The reason – humans are terrible at ‘accurate’ predictions. Most quakes aren’t 8.0 and most are far enough from the LA basin that the impact is not enough to trigger the predictions.
Should You Care
Care – yes. Be concerned – yes. Be prepared – yes. Run screaming and yelling through the streets to your school district office – no. While I am not overly concerned with this report, I do recommend being prepared for earthquakes and other natural disasters. Just like you, I would be devastated if my family perished in an earthquake and I pray that it never happens. The reality, at least here in California, is that most quakes don’t put us on the street and the ones that do, well, good luck has just as much to do with living as does being prepared.