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High-Rise Code Changes Posed for San Francisco

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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The city of San Francisco might soon be calling for tighter building codes when it comes to its high-rises, which a panel of experts says are inadequate to deal with the aftermath of a large earthquake.

Those experts are referencing a new study named the “Tall Buildings Safety Strategy,” which calls for the inspection and retrofitting of existing tall buildings, coupled with stronger regulations for new ones.

The Study

The report, developed by experts at the nonprofit research organization Applied Technology Council, focuses on the seismic vulnerability of the city’s growing skyscrapers (tall buildings it describes as 240 feet and higher, culminating in a list of about 150 skyscrapers) and recommends that tall buildings actually be required to be more rigid.

narvikk / Getty Images

The city of San Francisco might soon by calling for tighter building codes when it comes to its high-rises, which a panel of experts says are inadequate to deal with the aftermath of a large earthquake.

“What you are seeing here is the city’s recognition that it cannot protect their citizens from the biggest earthquake without dealing with these issues,” Lucy Jones, a California earthquake specialist, told The New York Times.

Officials noted that while the current codes do focus on being able to survive a large earthquake, they do little to ensure that people can go back into the buildings afterward. The report calculated that if a major earthquake were to strike, buildings constructed to the current code could suffer damage that could take two to six months to fix.

The report also nodded to a known flaw that’s in many buildings that were constructed decades ago: a steel-frame flaw made evident by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In addition, some buildings might have suffered structural damage in San Francisco’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The study notes that thorough inspections of buildings that fall into these two categories have never taken place.

“There is no doubt that those older steel frame buildings are far more likely to collapse than their designers anticipated,” Keith Porter, a professor of structural engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told the Los Angeles Times. “A collapse of one of these buildings could not only potentially kill many of its own occupants, but also people in nearby buildings.

“This is a problem we have known about for decades,” Porter said.

In addition to inspecting all older buildings, the code suggests that new buildings become significantly more rigid. Right now, the code allows a 300-foo-tall building to sway six feet from side to side during an earthquake. While the argument is made that such movement allows for the dissipation of energy during an earthquake, officials now note that such extreme movement can wreak havoc inside the building.

Reason & Reaction

The study was initiated after more and more problems began coming to light in San Francisco’s high-profile 58-story Millennium Tower. Now, the tower is most known for its sinking and settling issues—it has sunk at least 17 inches and tilted 14 inches to the west and 6 inches to the north.

heyengel / Getty Images

The report also nodded to a known flaw that’s in many buildings that were constructed decades ago: a steel-frame flaw made evident by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In addition, some buildings might have suffered structural damage in San Francisco’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The study notes that thorough inspections of buildings that fall into these two categories have never taken place.

If the city opts to enact the legislation that the study calls for, it would be the first city the United Stated to implement broad regulations on the city’s function after an earthquake, though other cities on the West Coast are certainly taking another look at their buildings.

Los Angeles officials have approved mandatory retrofits of an estimated 1,500 brittle concrete structures, while Santa Monica and West Hollywood have passed laws requiring vulnerable steel buildings be retrofitted.

All of this comes after a U.S. Geological Survey was released in July, that outlined dozens of San Francisco high-rises that would be at risk if a major earthquake to occur. At that time, a San Francisco administrator went on record to say, “There are only so many engineers in this city. There’s only so much money."

The findings of the recent report are to be presented to the city’s board of supervisors on Oct. 17. If legislation is passed, it could be put into effect during the city’s next building code revision, which is  slated for September 2019.

   

Tagged categories: Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Disasters; Health and safety; Regulations; Safety

Comment from john lienert, (10/16/2018, 7:36 AM)

more "ghost inspectors" like in oakland to protect from disasters like ghost ship fire.....sounds like more of the same


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