Past Seismic Retrofit Incidents & Industry Takes

A. Fake Quake! False Alarm Earthquake

On June 21st, the USGS mistakenly announced the occurrence of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake 10 miles west of Santa Barbara. This announcement wasn’t a total fluke, rather it was a blast from the past because this quake did in fact occur- just roughly 92 years earlier. The automated announcement went out as a result of an attempted correction to the aforementioned earthquake’s location via the USGS earthquake database (LA Times 2017). The year was accidentally changed from 1925 to 2025 and an automated system alerted the public of the “strong” earthquake. Upon receiving the false announcement, there was confusion among recipients who certainly did not feel an earthquake of such magnitude.

Earthquakes of 6.1 and above have been commonly known to cause extensive damage, especially in populated areas. Thankfully, no such shake or damage was experienced. Had an earthquake of this magnitude actually occurred, it would have been felt as far as Downtown Los Angeles according to a seismologist from Caltech (LA Times 2017). Prominent seismologist Lucy Jones responded to this false alert via twitter and stated “A software glitch turned an update of the magnitude of 1925 Santa Barbara quake M6.8 into a 2025 quake. New method for predicting quakes?”. In this somewhat sarcastic tweet, Dr. Jones seems to be suggesting that solid methods for predicting quakes are quite tenuous presently. This story might seem slightly irrelevant because this earthquake did not actually occur, so what is the harm? What one must take from this is that an earthquake of this size or larger eventually will occur. With this in mind, it is important to be prepared in the case of an actual earthquake and take the precautions necessary to protect yourself and your loved ones.

B. Interview with Dr. Gregg Brandow, Engineering Professor at University of Southern California

The new seismic ordinances recently passed in Los Angeles and San Francisco have created a greater demand for engineers in California. To discuss this need for engineers we interviewed Dr. Gregg Brandow, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at USC. Dr. Brandow has been involved in multiple seismic retrofit projects over the years, one example of his involvement being the strengthening of the March Air Force Base Hospital.In addition, he is a member of the Los Angeles Tall Building Structural Design Council, which is active in the development of the seismic design and safety in California since 1930s. We at Penhall Seismic Services greatly appreciated Dr. Brandow’s willingness to speak with us and the helpful information he provided. Here is something we have learnt from him after the interview:

  1. Structural engineering is a challenging and rewarding career Brandow says, and he mentions that there are more “glamourous” areas of engineering that students may prefer to it. In response to this, Dr. Brandow stated that an effort his department is making to remedy this is an outreach to high school students, which may help recruit young engineers who are interested in this particular segment of engineering.
  2. The USC engineering department has also recently invested several million dollars into new materials and equipment in order to help with the higher demand for state engineering services. Additionally, the department is seeking to hire two to three new faculty members to help continue the education of future engineers.

C. Portland Oregon Strats the Road To Retrofitting

As many southern and bay area Californians have recently experienced seismic retrofitting is a part of a new reality. Many structures that lack the support needed to withstand a major earthquake including both soft story and non-ductile concrete buildings are vulnerable to next “big one”. A 7.0 or higher is generally believed to be imminent, but when it will hit nobody knows. With seismic activity being not a matter of if, but when, other cities are evaluating their structures for strength against earthquakes.  Portland, Oregon is one of the latest cities to attempt to jump on board the seismic retrofitting bandwagon. Read more about Portland, Oregon’s road to retrofitting.

Portland Seismic Retrofit Statistics

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