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USC buildings lead in earthquake preparedness

first_imgIn the past 20 years, USC has strengthened all its unreinforced masonry buildings on campus in an effort to ensure earthquake safety.“USC has been pretty proactive, but the big worry is the rest of L.A. has a lot of concrete buildings that no one is doing anything with,” said Gregg Brandow, professor of engineering practice in USC’s Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.Data compiled by the University of California show that there are  nearly 1,500 concrete buildings in Los Angeles that could be at risk in a major earthquake.Berkeley released its research to the public on Jan. 25. The list included all concrete buildings in Los Angeles constructed before the 1976 building code. This building code required ductile detailing of the reinforcing bars in concrete to provide additional strength to the structures. The university researchers gave the list to Los Angeles officials and released a copy to the Los Angeles Times in response to a public records request.“We’re interested in running an analysis of earthquake losses,” said Jonathan Stewart, co-principal investigator of the study. “We’re getting a sense for the scale of impact in dollars and lives lost to craft public policy to change the problem.” Stewart is also the department chair of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.The study listed seven buildings located on the USC campus. Yet Associate Senior Vice President for Campus Development and Facilities Management Joe Back said that three of the addresses are inaccurate, and the remaining four have been inspected and meet seismic standards.The four buildings named were Parkside Apartments, Parkside Residential Building, Fluor Tower and United University Church, the last of which is not owned by USC. Back said Parkside Residential Building is located at the 920 West 37th Street location which the study listed; The description given in the L.A. Times article, however, identifies a smaller, one-story building which was demolished.Parkside Residential Building is one of the newest buildings on campus and meets seismic standards, Back said. Additionally, Parkside Apartments has already received a seismic upgrade, and Fluor Tower has been inspected and determined to meet seismic standards as well, he said.“All of our occupied buildings meet seismic standards,” Back wrote in an email. “USC continuously looks to identify upgrade opportunities in our buildings and executes a significant amount of work each year that includes upgrades in seismic performance, disabled access, heating/cooling systems and technology.”Stewart said the study addressed the fact that the list might not be 100 percent accurate. The researchers have not made any conclusions about the safety of the buildings.Stewart said the purpose of Berkeley’s study was to raise awareness of buildings that would be a potential threat if a large earthquake were to strike, as well as force the city to implement policies that will address this problem.“It will be interesting to see whether any sort of policy initiative is taken by the city of Los Angeles to do something about the problem,” Stewart said. “We saw just last week that Santa Monica funded a study to do a similar catalog of buildings. That’s a good sign. We would like to see cities taking this problem seriously.”The researchers’ data shows that it is crucial to update the buildings that cause a potential threat because of the possibility for extreme damage and lost lives. If a 7.15 magnitude earthquake occurred on the Puente Hills fault beneath Downtown Los Angeles, It could cause $20 billion worth of damage and 300 to 2,000 casualties depending on the time of day, Stewart said.In order to do more research on the topic, James Anderson, professor of civil engineering and environmental engineering at the Viterbi School of Engineering, submitted an application for a grant which will allow researchers to look at the various buildings in question to predict what the consequences would be of an earthquake.“We want to create a tool to analytically predict what the consequence would be for these buildings,” Anderson said. “For example, three years ago in Mexico City, there were buildings reviewed by engineers that reported no sign of damage, and yet they collapsed, so that simulates a need for an analytical tool that can quantify this.”Thomas Jordan, professor of earth sciences at the Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences and director of the Southern California Earthquake Center, cited the importance of this type of research.“We’ve been proactive at USC, but seismically it’s been quiet in Southern California for a long time,” Jordan said. Since we can’t know when another will happen, we worry that whole region might wake up and it might not be just one, but a sequence of major earthquakes, which is a concern.”last_img

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