It has been nearly three decades since the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the question on the minds of millions of Los Angelinos is: are we safer today than we were back then? Are the lives of our loved ones secure? Are our homes and commercial businesses safe? The answer to these questions is, unfortunately, more complex than one would hope…*
Let’s start with what we know. Yes, there have been changes in terms of making building construction safer, as well as dealing with our population’s ability to deal with the violent impact of earthquakes. There has been progress, but many challenges remain.
West Coast Earthquake Early Warning Systems
About a year ago, after many years in development, the U.S. Geological Survey finally announced that its West Coast earthquake early warning system was ready for use by businesses, utilities, transport systems, and schools. This system can reportedly detect the start of an earthquake and send alerts from several seconds, up to a minute, before seismic activity arrives at a particular location (the timing depends on how far away is the warning receiver is from the epicenter of a quake).
Better Building Codes and Practices To Protect From Earthquakes
During the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, buildings that were considered to be safe, and built just a few years prior, proved to be vulnerable to damage, with steel welds fracturing, columns cracking, and first floors collapsing down on open spaces below.
This damage literally revolutionized how construction, building codes, and inspection practices were accomplished in Los Angeles. For example, the collapse of many major freeway overpasses meant that a major investment has now been made by Caltrans in retrofitting freeway bridges, while sadly, county and city bridges, that have not yet been retrofitted, may still be vulnerable to earthquake damage.
Los Angeles Mandatory “Soft-Story” Retrofit Program
Perhaps one of the most important changes occurred in 2015, when the City of Los Angeles enacted a mandatory ordinance that required retrofitting some of the city’s most vulnerable buildings. This ordinance required the retrofit of about 13,500 “Soft-Story” buildings in a span of seven years, and retrofitting another 1,500 “non-ductile reinforced concrete” buildings in a process that spans 25 years.
By “Soft-Story” we mean those multi-story buildings that have large open spaces on their first or second floors, instead of walls (one example is an apartment building’s “tuck-under” parking garage structure). Such buildings must be retrofitted as they can be critically damaged from the forces of seismic activity.
City Ordinances 183893 and 184081 and the mandatory Soft Story program require owners of such buildings to retrofit those structures deemed most vulnerable. Such structures have the following attributes:
- Consist of two or more stories of wood frame construction
- Built under code standards enacted before January 1, 1978 and
- Contain ground floor parking or other similar open floor spaces.
To verify if a particular building is within the scope of the mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program, one can check the LADBS website.
The Earthquake Brace + Bolt Program (“EBB”)
Another important state-funded program available for Los Angeles homeowners is the “Earthquake Brace + Bolt” (“EBB”) program, which grants free money to homeowners so they can protect their homes and families against earthquake damage by earthquake retrofitting / house bolting. The EBB program provides grants of up to $3,000 to thousands of homeowners to subsidize their cost of seismic retrofitting their homes. For many small homes, this free government money can potentially cover the full cost of retrofitting.
The EBB program provides free grant money for earthquake retrofitting homes in many ZIP codes in the Greater Los Angeles area. Homeowners can check and see if their home is in one of the eligible EBB zipcodes and then complete an easy application for the funds right then and there.
And so yes, there remains an urgent need to retrofit homes and businesses in Los Angeles and safeguard them from earthquake damage. The professionals at Weinstein Construction want to help you be prepared and have peace of mind when the next earthquake hits! Call us now to discuss or schedule a free inspection of your home or Soft-Story structure. We are standing by at (800) 862-6582.
At Weinstein Construction, we have written many more informative blogs on the Earthquake Brace + Bolt (“EBB”) program, as well as the City of Los Angeles mandatory Soft-Story retrofit program, and these blogs can be found by clicking on the links below: