Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Blog

Interview with Dr. Gregg Brandow, Engineering Professor at USC

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 (USC faculty directory)

In addition, Brandow is also a member of the Los Angeles Tall Building Structural Design Council, which is active in the development of the seismic design and retrofitting of tall buildings. According to Dr. Brandow, USC engineering graduates have been leaders in seismic design and safety in California since the 1930’s. Although engineers from USC have certainly been active participants in seismic retrofit efforts, with the growing number of buildings that must be mandatorily retrofitted, there is still a dearth of structural engineers in California.

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. 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.

It is no secret that over the next few years California will experience rapid growth and change as the seismic retrofit ordinances are implemented throughout participating cities. It is comforting to know that prestigious universities, such as USC, are continuing to educate new and motivated structural engineers to help with the seismic retrofit processes. We at Penhall Seismic Services greatly appreciated Dr. Brandow’s willingness to speak with us and the helpful information he provided.

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July 24, 2017

LA’s Tenant Habitability Plan: What Does It Mean For You (The Tenant)?

With all of the recent talk centered around the mandatory seismic retrofitting of buildings in Los Angeles, you (the tenant) might be wondering “what does this mean for me, my family, and my home?”. If the building that you live in has received notification of mandate for a seismic retrofitting there are some very important things that you should know. First and most importantly, there is a mandatory plan in place intended to protect you and your loved ones during the time of construction. The Tenant Habitability Program was created to protect tenants from displacement or unsatisfactory living conditions while their building is undergoing construction.  

The Tenant Habitability Plan or “THP” must be filed before any work is done to the building. This plan should include a description of the estimated impact that the retrofit process will have on tenant’s apartment and any disruption to their personal property. Under this plan, if relocation is required, the owner is required to pay relocation benefits to the building’s current tenants. In addition, the Tenant Habitability Plans includes any sort of estimated disruptions that tenants may experience, such as if water, electrical, or gas services are affected. Your building’s Tenant Habitability Plan will cover all planned disruptions as well as accidental disruptions during the time of construction. Once your building owner provides you with a copy of the THP, it is your decision (as well as the other tenants) if you will choose to appeal it. Once the THP is given to you and your fellow tenants, you have 15 days to appeal it.  

We understand that this time may be stressful for you and your family but you can rest assured knowing that the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) is looking out for your interests and well being. Thus far there has not been a lot of push back, as tenants understand that the short term inconvenience of retrofitting will ultimately result in a safer home later. However, for the tenants and their families it is reassuring to know that they are protected under this plan and are a major consideration in the retrofit process.

For more information on the Tenant Habitability Program, visit http://hcidla.lacity.org/Tenant-Habitability-Program

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July 17, 2017

Seismically Sophisticated Skyscraper in Los Angeles

It seems ironic that as thousands of buildings in Los Angeles are being mandatorily seismically retrofitted that a massive, 1,110 foot tall building would be built next-door. The Wilshire Grand Center, now the tallest building in California, is located at 9000 Wilshire Boulevard and is quite “grand” indeed. This massive new structure which officially opened on June 23, 2017 has 73 floors which houses nearly 900 hotel rooms and 400,000 square feet of office space (www.mynewsla.com). When plans for this building were introduced, there was concern for the success of such a structure in the case of an earthquake. Particularly, in the case of an earthquake that is over magnitude 7. This threat is why Los Angeles, though certainly a big city, is not filled with tall towers and skyscrapers- as is the case in other large cities (www.newsweek.com).

In order to help ensure this building’s safety in the case of a major earthquake, its design incorporates a variety of “earthquake-proof” amenities.  At the core of these precautions is the nearly 18 foot thick concrete foundation, which according to one of the building’s engineers will help support the building greatly during a quake (www.ladowntownnews.com). In addition, concessions have also been made in regards to emergency services. Since the building is so tall, there were concerns that emergency responders would have a difficult time reaching the top floors. To remedy this a “fireman’s elevator” was placed within the core of the building protected by over 2 feet of concrete. It has been suggested that the Wilshire Grand Center can sway up to 17 inches without giving way under the pressure of a major quake (www.newsweek.com). While there is no way of knowing how such a large structure will perform in an earthquake, engineers and designers worked tirelessly to ensure that this building would work as hard as they did.

The Wilshire Grand Center is a very sophisticated structure and the city of Los Angeles would not have allowed its construction had it not been. Seismic safety is extremely important, especially in a state like California, so it is encouraging to see building policies reflect that.


Photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Blake via www.newsweek.com

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July 12, 2017

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.

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June 30, 2017

Seismic Code Improvements Over The Years In California

The evolution of the seismic codes in California over the years is a tale of discovery and ultimately safety. The seismic code improvements are welcomed by many, but more importantly necessary for the personal safety of many California families. The particularly high seismic regions within California combined with past earthquakes have certainly shaken citizens and government agencies. Leaving the community asking “how can we prevent major death and loss when the the next big one hits?” The intention of these new and improved seismic codes is to create stronger structural integrity and protection for existing buildings and those who live and work within them. Often times what causes the most harm during an earthquake is not the earthquake itself, but the fact that poorly constructed buildings can crumble as a result of them. The new seismic ordinances mandated in California extend to existing wood-frame buildings constructed with soft, weak, or open-front walls (www.ladbs.org). These improvements to seismic code were made partly in response to the property damage that has been experienced in past earthquakes. Many buildings that had been constructed prior to 1978 proved to be insufficient and unable to withstand seismic activity, causing irreparable damage to property and unfortunately resulting in many personal injuries.

The new seismic code improvements have created a minimum safety standard that will allow for buildings in California to perform better when faced with earthquakes, reducing the chance of property damage and instances of injury. These ordinances apply only to buildings that have more than three units. If the building you live in or own fits any of the aforementioned criteria, yourself or the building’s owner will receive an order to comply with new seismic codes. Within two years of receiving this order building owners must either provide proof of their building’s compliance or plans to retrofit their building or demolish it (www.ladbs.org). Within the five years following this, it is required that demolition or seismic retrofit services have been wholly completed. The safety and well being of individuals and the homes in which they live cannot be short changed. These mandatory ordinances requiring seismic retrofitting throughout California, though no easy feat, are to the benefit of all that live, work, and play in this golden state. 

For more information on seismic code and the seismic retrofit services offered by Penhall, visit our seismic retrofit page… https://www.penhall.com/seismic-retrofit/.                           


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June 29, 2017

Penhall Company proud to exhibit at the 2nd annual Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Fair

The bustle of the room grew louder as local property owners from Los Angeles started to arrive at the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Fair. The tables were a buzz as vendors engaged with the locals.

The fair that took place April 17th, 2017 in Los Angeles and was designed to have all the information and vendors in one place for seismic retrofitting.  In the eyes of the community it seemed it was a success.

Penhall Company Seismic Retrofit Services was proud to be present to discuss retrofit needs one on one with customers.  The energy in the room was good, while not all owners were thrilled about the mandatory ordinance most seemed to be positive.  In the end it seems a lot of folks just want the city safer in the event of a major earthquake and this event helped people get closer to their goal of compliance.

Penhall Company Booth ready for the LA Retrofit FairIn talking with the public yesterday it is clear that property owners are much more interested in Design+Build firms.  The idea of being a “middle man” between and engineer and contractor is not appealing to many.  Other property owners expressed a deep interest in knowing their contractor is honest and reliable.  With so many soft-story retrofits that need to be done in the city some owners were concerned with choosing the right contractor for fear of a bad experience.  We at Penhall Company always try to encourage customers to do their research, get 3 quotes, consult with an engineer and think about their vendor choice before signing a contract. Following your gut can take you far. If something doesn’t feel right, move on to another vendor better suited to your needs.

Penhall was proud to sit and speak with each potential customer about their concerns and retrofits including timelines, costs and tenant support. Our 60 years servicing the local community is a testament to our commitment to high quality and fair priced engineering services.

Read more about the Seismic Retrofit Work Program

Flyer for the 2nd Annual Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Fair.

April 18, 2017

Building Resiliency Rating System

When evaluating levels of seismic retrofitting, it is at the discretion of the owner to what level of resiliency they desire for their building. At minimum, the seismic retrofit ordinances aim to make buildings safe enough for tenants to exit the building safely in the event of a large earthquake. This does not guarantee that the building will be habitable after an earthquake. For other buildings that would in fact need to be in operation after a large quake, i.e. hospitals, these buildings must be kept to a higher standard of resiliency.

From Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti’s “Resilience by Design” report, “Our building code is designed around a life-safety requirement that mandates construction that ensures a low probability of collapse in the worst earthquake. The code is not designed, however, to make it so buildings, while still standing, are also likely to remain usable after an earthquake. This report recommends a voluntary rating system to encourage building owners to invest in the resilience of their buildings so that they not only stay standing after an earthquake, but so that they also remain functional.”

One such rating system for evaluating how well a building will hold up in an earthquake is known as the United States Resiliency Council Building Rating System. Per the USRC website, “The USRC Building Rating System assigns one to five stars for three performance measures – Safety, Damage expressed as repair cost, and Recovery expressed as time to regain basic function.”

Every city should be concerned first and foremost about the safety of its residents, but secondly, they should want to make sure that the City would still be able to thrive after an earthquake. Would the residents be able to return to their homes and/or jobs after a quake, or will they move to an area of less seismic activity? Per www.fema.gov/building-codes, “If you live or work in retrofitted structures, you’re less likely to be injured during an earthquake. After the earthquake, you’re also more likely to have a home and a job to which you can quickly return. Businesses that use retrofitted buildings are more likely to survive damaging earthquakes and to sustain shorter business interruptions and fewer inventory losses.”

April 14, 2017