Major earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand have California officials focused on the quake vulnerability of thousands of concrete buildings built before the state adopted stringent seismic building codes. California has an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 brittle concrete buildings lacking sufficient reinforcing steel.
In recent years, some state lawmakers and officials have advocated identifying and retrofitting these structures, but high costs have stalled the initiatives. One solution is to wrap concrete columns with carbon-fiber mesh. But that requires tearing everything out around the columns, making some retrofits almost as expensive as erecting a new building, according to some business groups.
California moved to improve the safety of some structures after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, with the focus on freeways and hospitals. The hospital sector has made progress since then, but has a long way to go for full seismic code compliance.