Coding for Quakes

Novick's Ready to Fight for Seismically Safer Buildings—Will It Be Enough?


The historic preservation community is well aware of the seismic issues concerning the subset of unreinforced masonry buildings (URM's) and has been proactive in recommending policies that encourage the seismic retrofit in an appropriate manner. Check out the Historic Preservation League of Oregon's (now Restore Oregon) Special Report: "Resilience Masonry Buildings: Saving Lives, Livelihoods, and Livability in Oregon's Historic Downtowns". (

One of the important aspects of the report is looking at these historic masonry buildings in their context as vital elements of many older commercial districts in Portland and other Oregon communities. While buildings are considered individually for code compliance, the impact of many buildings being damaged at once goes into the economic viability of the downtown and commercial historic districts.

The report also recommends that all buildings get a seismic rating that indicates whether buildings allow people to escape safely, can be repaired but unoccupied, can be repaired while occupied, or is useable after an earthquake. To be resilient as a city, we need to look at a higher standard than "life/safety" for all buildings.

It should be noted that building codes were only upgraded in 1994 to take into account major earthquakes, so that leaves many at risk. It is true that unreinforced masonry are out largest problem, but older "non-ductile" concrete buildings are not far behind (and in some cases worse) than URM's.
Wim Wievel, der Führer of Portland State University which sits precariously atop the potentially devastating, West Hills Fault, has a Ph fucking D in Urban planning. Why does he continue to condemn and confiscate land in downtown Portland to expand the Campus as he solicits new students? Is that why the PSU Safety Patrollers harass and brutalize the homeless in the adjacent, public park blocks, to keep them away from the danger zone?
Make the buildings safer? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, HA! Do you have any idea how much devastation there will be from a 9.2? We must have money to burn, because when the big one hits, even the insurance companies will go bankrupt.
This is so sad. So many of Portland's historic buildings are already at risk of being demolished or "renovated" to the point of being unrecognizable, especially now that the real estate market has started to surge again. Novick is already predicting this in the statement about how building owners would rather just walk away than retrofit. Well, when they walk away, some developer is going to knock the building down and put up another junky soulless glass box. Do we really want all of Portland to look like the South Waterfront? Is it worth it to lose the architectural identity of a city in exchange for purported "safety"? Nauseating.
Oh, I don't think you have to worry about the real estate market heating up in the foreseeable future, at all.
Most landlords won't take responsibility when a pipe bursts in your apartment, and now you're expecting them to "earthquake proof" a whole building?
@ palebythesea:

"Is it worth it to lose the architectural identity of a city in exchange for purported "safety"?"

Yes. Of course it is. I don't enjoy uninspired, soulless architecture, either, but if knocking down some of these places would help to save even just a few lives, then I'm all for it. And it doesn't appear that there's any question that retrofitting these places would indeed make them safer; not completely safe, of course, but certainly safER.

All you have to do is imagine one of your loved ones perishing in one of these outdated, unstable buildings simply because the owner/city was too cheap to make the appropriate, prudent renovations when they had the chance -- at that point you would be singing quite a different tune and suddenly wouldn't give a damn about aesthetics or historical identities.

Perhaps they can put some sort of facade on them in order to retain their old timey charm, but to leave them as is, especially after they have been scientifically shown to be much less safe than they could/should be, would be the height of irresponsibility, short-sightedness, and foolishness.
I live in one of these buildings, and frankly I'm considering bailing out of this town within five years — even if it means being homeless — because getting buried alive is in the top five of my list of deaths to avoid.
In my opinion, the best way to look at the "problem" of unsafe buildings is to envision the aftermath of an earthquake and ask ourselves if we should have done something as a community. Yes, individual property owners have rights and unfunded mandates are buzz words to derail creative thinking, but who really is stuck with the effects of a destructive earthquake? The families of those killed, the economic life-blood of cities and towns, and the architectural heritage of our communities all lie in its path.

It's no longer possible to live as if we don't know what kind of damage can be done following even a moderate earthquake. Unreinforced masonry and non-ductile concrete building WILL collapse. There will be questions about how important this was to us and if the answer is that we couldn't find an equitable solution, it probably won't sit well with most. Hindsight will be cruel.

So the fact that we don't have a solution right now should drive us to press on and insist that the conversation not be derailed by self-interest arguments. We live in communities and thrive not solely because of what we do but because we are part of the whole. If we continue to ignore our need to contribute a solution to the benefit of the whole community, we'll be left wondering why we didn't care enough to start down the path of seismic safety.