Thirty nine San Francisco high rises at risk of collapse in major earthquake

Vulnerable buildings have welded columns and beams.

June 27, 2018 |

Thirty-nine high rises in San Francisco are at risk of collapse in a major earthquake, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Service (USGS).

The vulnerable buildings (known as welded steel moment-frame buildings) were constructed by using a flawed technique to weld columns and beams together. This technique was found to be less resilient to seismic activity after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles where critical joints were damaged in several buildings that had been welded.

The building code was revised in the mid-1980s to require more stiffness, and then again in the mid-1990s to correct the defective welding technique. San Francisco outlawed the technique in1994 after damage from the Northridge quake on high rises was discovered. The list of vulnerable structures includes the former Bank of America building, the headquarters of Pacific Gas and Electric, three hotels, and the Salesforce West tower.

San Francisco has offered incentives to repair at-risk buildings. In 2009, the city expedited permits and agreed to waive fees for so-called “soft-story buildings” that have garages or windows on the bottom floor.

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