San Francisco approves concrete building safety program for enhanced seismic resilience

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California Construction News staff writer

An executive directive signed by San Francisco’s mayor aims to bolster the city’s seismic safety measures through a concrete building safety program. The initiative, aimed at reducing major structural damage and safeguarding public safety, was announced by Mayor London Breed last week.

The directive includes implementation of measures “to protect lives, preserve critical infrastructure, and facilitate swift post-earthquake recovery.” It also seeks to fortify the local economy against the potential fallout of seismic disasters.

City staff will be tasked with creating a retrofit program to address the safety concerns of specific concrete buildings that are susceptible to structural failure during significant earthquakes, akin to recent seismic events in Taiwan.

Identifying these vulnerable structures is a challenge, however, as concrete buildings are not easily identified from the exterior. Therefore, a screening process will be used to identify buildings accurately.

City Administrator Carmen Chu underscored the importance of assessing risks posed by individual buildings.

“Assessing our real risk grounded in building-by-building data will help us better understand the magnitude of work needed and options for mitigating displacement and cost,” she said. “Building owners who are ready to retrofit benefit from clear guidelines moving forward. I look forward to continuing our work in partnership with our stakeholders and policymakers.”

Recommendations released by the Office of Resilience and Capital Planning (ORCP) outline a framework for the Concrete Building Program, developed with input from technical experts and community stakeholders over a year-long period.

San Francisco faces a significant seismic risk, with a 72 percent chance of experiencing a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake by 2043, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The devastating 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, claimed 63 lives and displaced over 12,000 individuals.

Director of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, Patrick O’Riordan, emphasized the importance of assessing and retrofitting vulnerable structures to ensure the city’s preparedness for future seismic events. The executive directive will facilitate comprehensive evaluations of concrete buildings, identification of retrofit needs, and the establishment of safety standards for future compliance.

The recommendations, developed during a 12-month-long series of convenings hosted by ORCP, are available to read here.

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