What are simple things business owners can do now to avoid an earthquake catastrophe?

First and foremost, a business owner needs to identify and understand their risk so that
 they can make a conscious effort to reduce it. That means doing a thorough
 evaluation of their facilities. For instance, the obvious things are the non-structural
 items that can fall and cause injury or damage if not anchored, that includes bookcases, lights, etc. Most businesses don’t get around to do it after they bring their furniture and
 fixtures into the building. Second, determine any structural strengthening that can make 
a substantial difference in how well their building will perform in an earthquake.
 As an example, we witnessed the big difference in San Francisco with a city-required
 seismic upgrade for minor parapet bracing. This simple upgrade saved hundreds of
 buildings. When that type of building starts to fail they start at an upper parapet corner 
and just peel down. That little bit of strengthening in that one area helped improve
 the integrity of many buildings and saved a lot of lives. Depending on the type of building,
 there are many such small improvements that can be done before an event to make a
 big difference.

How do campus owners deal with
 multiple buildings?

An important step is to ask: do we have an inventory of our buildings and a sense of
 how they are going to perform individually? This is so important because 
buildings and their uses, especially campuses, evolve over time. One building may be
 quite a bit older than another, and it may have been modified over time. In addition, we
 learn more about how buildings perform with every earthquake so depending on when
 a building was constructed and its construction type, we learn further how one building 
may perform differently than another. Code milestones for building materials change
 over the years based on what we learn and therefore design requirements change. 
And with the changing uses of buildings on a campus, it is really important to gather 
building information before hand and have a preparedness plan in place, based on that

How far do codes go in building 

Earthquake codes have been evolving since 1933. The promise of the code is that it will
 provide life/safety for building occupants in the event of a major earthquake. However,
 meeting code requirements doesn’t necessarily address a building’s performance. The 
specific uses of different buildings may change the owner’s performance requirements
 for each individual building. 
With every earthquake, structural engineers go on site – a real life “laboratory” – to
 learn lessons about how different buildings performed. With every three-year code
 cycle, the design requirements are updated based on the lessons learned. In the
 80s computers entered the picture, and now our analysis is extremely sophisticated,
 but the fundamental details of every earthquake are different. You can design a 
building for how you think it will perform during an earthquake, and the code will reach the
 fundamentals, but, in reality, each earthquake is unique.

If you were to build a building today
 for your average client, would designing 
beyond code be recommended?

Depending on the project type, and the criticality of what is performed in that building 
determines to what level of performance the structure is designed. As an example, there
 are higher standards used for facilities such as hospitals, police stations, etc. Hospitals 
are designed for a 50% higher force level than an average building. They need to have
 the resilience for immediate occupancy and functionality. Data centers are also an
 essential facility from a business perspective. We have conversations with our building
 owners about their redundancy and the risk that a significant interruption would have to 
their business. To achieve a higher performance level may cost approximately 10% to
 20% more for the structural design elements of a building of that nature. Every facility 
needs to be designed based on its function and relation to the business it supports.

Are there any new ideas on the 
horizon in terms of building resilience and 
structural design?

Right now, the structural community is working on a building rating system that
 addresses resilience. It will provide an easy to understand value rating for safety,
 economics and downtime. This will help the public to understand the difference in
 resilience and preparedness, from one building to another. A building owner can know 
what their building’s rating is and tenants can see a comparative impact rating from 
building to building.
 As far as new technologies in building materials go, there are always new materials 
being tested and developed. Things like base isolation came into play in the late 70s 
and early 80s, and that is now widely adopted. We can base isolate a new building 
as well as an existing building. A Bonded Restrained Braces (BRB) is a piece of
 steel placed within a tube that is lubricated, moves during an earthquake and if 
it gets damaged can easily be replaced. Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) is another 
technology that can be wrapped around columns, for instance, to reinforce them and
 add strength. We are now using that on walls as well. We are constantly 
looking for those kinds of innovations.

With your experience on the ground
 helping cities rebuild after Loma Prieta 
and Northridge, what are you and your
 firm doing to help communities to prepare 
for future response?

During Loma Prieta, I had the opportunity to work with Laurence Kornfield, who was 
the Earthquake Response Manager for the Department of Building Inspection in San 
Francisco. We learned tremendous lessons along the way while assessing the damage 
to that region and were focused on getting buildings reoccupied and back online. I was
 fortunate to be involved in that because as a result, the Building Occupancy Resumption
 Program (BORP) was developed and is in place in San Francisco and other cities in the Bay
 Area. This program is a key element in improving a community’s resilience. It is based 
on the idea of a city deputizing licensed structural engineers to investigate buildings and 
develop a plan with owners for a future earthquake. Given pre-knowledge of the
 facility and up-to-date training and documents, the structural engineer can immediately
 assess the safety of a building. This allows re-occupancy or more quickly beginning
 repairs, without having to wait for a City Inspector. BORP has many, many benefits 
to the City and to building owners. The minor cost of BORP is born by the owners, 
dramatically reduces the time it takes for a building to be put back in operation, and it
 lessens the demand on the city’s inspectors. Above all, BORP improves the citizens and 
business owners’ confidence in the City’s disaster response planning.

Is there the same prearrangement with 
contractors to make needed improvements 
to a building?

That is another element of a good preparedness program. In past situations, when we
 saw a building that needed shoring, we called on our colleagues and people we knew to help. A business owner should have a contractor in place just as they have 
an engineering team in place. It’s all about trust, relationships and favors in a situation
 like that. Having a plan in place to have someone show up with necessary cables, and 
other shoring materials is essential. SAFEq can help the building owner by providing recommendations and even design of the temporary shoring so that the building can be
 quickly stabilized.

What is ahead?

Recently, Lucy Jones presented at the Buildings at Risk: Earthquake Loss Reduction
 Summit, where she spoke about the ShakeOut earthquake model’s economic impact
 on Southern California. For a 7.8 quake on the San Andreas fault, the United States 
Geological Survey estimates damage costs due to actual ground shaking will be doubled
 by fire, and total costs will be doubled again by business interruption. Shaking damage 
is 25% of the total cost while Business Interruption is 50%. They anticipate the 7.8
 quake to cost between $60 – $70 billion. Those are dramatic numbers and we need to be
prepared in order to minimize overall economic impact.

To understand the magnitude difference between what we have experienced to date
in Southern California compared to the modeled 7.8 earthquake, Nathan Becker with
 NOAA/NWS/Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did a YouTube video called “Perspective”
 which gives a graphic comparison of the energy release of earthquakes around the 
world. It is fascinating and gives you context to what we are dealing with.

The SAFEq Institute’s goal is to help cities adopt the BORP program of emergency response,
 and to assist business owners who are looking at their own emergency response
 systems and processes. It is everyone’s priority to ensure the safety of their employees
or tenants and get things back to normal as quickly as possible. We have
 on-the-ground, first-hand knowledge that we can bring to the table to help cities and
 business owners prioritize their response, and have a solid system in place that can
only be there as a result pre-assessment and planning.


David Cocke, S.E. founded Structural Focus, a Southern California-based structural
 engineering firm, in 2001 after 20 years in the structural engineering business. He 
is a leader in structural design for all building types with special expertise in historic 
buildings and film industry structures. David is a recognized expert in building business 
resiliency and continuity related to earthquake risks and was an on-the-ground
 responder after the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes. David’s experience with pre-planning and minimizing business interruption drove him to co-found SAFEq Institute.
 The SAFEq™ Institute brings together Southern California’s cities and building owners
 with information, activities, and professional services to minimize business loss.

For more information on this topic and to learn more about BORP, see SAFEq Institute’s White Paper entitled “San Francisco Shows how to Boost Resilience” an interview with Laurence Kornfield and David Cocke, S.E.