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Seismic resilience should be part of green standards in quake-prone regions

December 18, 2012 |
Lynne Simnick

The Northwest of the U.S. boasts some impressive sustainable building design accomplishments, but it has not incorporated adequate seismic resilience into green standards and codes, says environmental writer Edward Wolf. He argues that the Northwest, an active seismic zone, is at high risk for devastating consequences if a temblor with the power of recent ones in New Zealand or Chile strikes.

“If a quake like Chile’s or New Zealand’s struck Oregon, where the first seismic building codes are less than two decades old, we could face the greatest human and economic catastrophe in our history,” Wolf says.

Sustainability offers a prudent hedge against many risks, including some associated with climate change, peak oil, and resource shortages. “But sustainability, at least as practiced here in the green Northwest, has been strangely silent on the subject of seismic risk,” Wolf says. “No one leads learning tours or keynotes conferences on the need to prepare our region for a megathrust earthquake.”

Wolf urges Oregon’s governor and legislature, which are crafting an energy efficient schools initiative, to incorporate seismic resilience into their plan. The initiative “should aim for ASCE-41 (engineering standards for the seismic rehabilitation of existing buildings) as well as LEED Silver,” he says.

Wolf is the latest sustainability pundit to argue for seismic resilience in green standards. In recent months, others have pointed out that a building that can withstand natural disasters is greener than one that has to be rebuilt after such events. And, the key point: Resilient, sustainable structures can save lives along with energy and water.


Lynne Simnick | Codes and Standards

Lynne Simnick is the Director of Code Development for the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and is responsible for the supervision and oversight of the creation and maintenance of all IAPMO codes and code supporting documents. Ms. Simnick has more than twenty-eight years experience in the plumbing industry including code development, education and training, plan review and evaluation services. Prior to joining IAPMO, Simnick worked as technical staff in engineering services, educator, inspector and plumber. She has a Bachelors of Science Degree in Education and Mechanical Engineering Technology. Simnick has authored many technical articles, participated in numerous standards committees with an expertise in code and standards development.

Ms. Simnick may be contacted at IAPMO, 909-472-4110 or email

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