Major Initiative Aims to Find and Fix Earthquake-Dangerous Buildings

Contact Information:
Susan Tubbesing, Executive Director
510 451 0905 – skt@eeri.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 17, 2006

OAKLAND, CA., April 17, 2006 — The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) is sponsoring a major collaborative effort to address the high earthquake risk posed by older concrete buildings in the western US. The effort will help engineers quickly distinguish truly dangerous, collapse-prone buildings within the large inventory of these buildings, retrofit the truly bad buildings, and avoid future casualties. The newly proposed Concrete Coalition would unite structural engineers, building officials, public policy interests, building owners, and managers in a long-term effort to meet the challenge.

According to Craig Comartin, President of EERI and a structural engineer, “Older concrete design procedures used prior to the 1970’s could result in brittle buildings that snap like a pencil when hit by an earthquake. Modern code provisions ensure that buildings have ductility – a property that allows them to distort like a coat hanger without breaking.” As a result, modern concrete buildings are safer against collapse than the older non-ductile ones by a factor of twenty or more. Recent estimates of the potential effects of a repeat of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake indicate that the worst of the older buildings – including apartment houses, offices, schools, and hospitals – would be the greatest source of casualties.

The initiative grows out of planning sessions conducted recently in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The meetings were held in conjunction with a technical seminar sponsored by EERI and the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER), a consortium of universities working together to further improve earthquake design procedures.

Jack Moehle, Director of PEER and a University of California Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says that significant recent advancements will help find the worst buildings. “There is no question that the new performance-based earthquake engineering procedures are the best framework for addressing the problem” he says.

Beyond these technical engineering issues, the Concrete Coalition intends to address related social and economic impacts. William Petak, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California and an expert in earthquake related public policy, notes that “The solution to the nonductile concrete building problem will require significant capital investment. This means that carefully planned programs to assist building owners and entire communities will be necessary to make the transition to safety a smooth process.”

According to Comartin, the group plans to share information on the vulnerability and inventory of buildings, as well as encourage funding for further research on innovative analysis and retrofit solutions. They will also coordinate a public outreach program to inform communities about the problem and solutions. Organization and communications will rely heavily on existing membership associations and institutions with a common interest in earthquake safety. Comartin adds that “Most importantly, the Concrete Coalition will help all stakeholders speak with a common voice to address all aspects of the problem”.
The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute is an Oakland-based nonprofit with over 2500 academic and professional members throughout the world with a common interest in reducing the effects of earthquakes on society. EERI is a convener of the upcoming 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference in San Francisco.

Additional contacts:

Craig Comartin – ccomartin@comartin.net

Jack Moehle – moehle@berkeley.edu

William Petak – petak@usc.edu

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