Current California seismic codes provide safety, resiliency, but needed upgrades present challenge

Los Angeles requires seismic retrofits, but other cities do not.

May 11, 2016 |
Current California seismic codes provide safety, resiliency, but needed upgrades present challenge

Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Kevin Stanchfield/Creative Commons.

In earthquake-prone California, new seismic codes are believed to have significantly boosted safety and resiliency, but much of the state’s older building stock is highly vulnerable to seismic events.

Last year, Los Angeles took a major step to address that deficiency when it enacted the toughest set of mandatory seismic upgrade laws in the nation. The legislation requires the retrofit of some 15,000 buildings. Some owners may have to pay millions of dollars to pay for the retrofits.

Unless other communities or the state follow Los Angeles’s lead with an evaluation and upgrade law, building codes do not address existing structures unless a building is being sold, repurposed, or undergoing an extensive remodel in excess of 25% of a building’s value. One current state law does require seismic upgrades in one sector: critical care medical buildings.

Without similar laws, it may be a long while before the state’s older buildings are retrofitted according to current seismic best practices. Another problem the state faces is assuring the quality of retrofit contractors. There has been some discussion about state licensing for retrofit contractors, but there are no solid plans in the works to do that.

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