Seismic Neglect: The Earthquake Danger Lawmakers Have Ignored For Decades

May 16, 2016

That can't be right.

One of the fastest growing urban and surrounding suburban areas in the country with more than  3,439,809 (2010 census) people is situated on more than 9 major fault lines (per US Geological Survey) and doesn't require retrofitting?

The Seattle Times has posted the first of a fascinating series of articles called "Seismic Neglect" that discusses how, despite being warned decades ago about the dangers of unreinforced masonry construction (URM), Washington lawmakers still have not put in to place any laws or codes requiring new buildings to be reinforced or old buildings to be retrofitted.

There are about 1,163 unreinforced brick and concrete structures in the Seattle area but no state laws on the books to require retrofitting. There are some city regulations that guide owners and builders but some owners are simply waiting until they are forced to retrofit older buildings.

Neil Hawkins, a member of the state's first seismic safety council, surveyed unreinforced-masonry buildings across the state as chair of the University of Washington’s civil engineering department. He called the hazards “woeful and frightening” in a 1985 paper. Now retired, Hawkins worries about the droves of newcomers to the Puget Sound area. “Many of them really don’t understand the degree to which there is an earthquake hazard,” he said.

Today, about 5.4 million people in Washington live in the zone endangered by a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone megaquake.

Read more of the Seattle Times article here, then go to FEMA's "Unreinforced Masonry Buildings and Earthquakes" report for a close-up of what the people in Washington face.