A Message from the SEAOC President

Another year is almost behind us, and as we start the New Year, the recession recovery of the last several years appears to be picking up some steam.  There has been a definite increase in financial commitments for both new building construction and existing building renovation projects in both the public and private sectors.  Which is welcome news for our membership. 

SEAOC and the local member organizations have been busy since our annual convention held last September in San Diego.  SEAOC’s 2012 IBC Structural and Seismic Design Manual’s (SSDM’s) are now available for purchase from the bookstore on SEAOC’s website (www.seaoc.org).   Hopefully you have found the SSDM “overview” webinars on the first four volumes of the SSDM informative.  The last SSDM overview webinar is to be held on January 16th and will be on volume V “Examples for Seismically Isolated Buildings and Buildings with supplemental damping.  More in-depth local seminars on the individual SSDM volume design examples have been scheduled by SEAOSC in March and SEAONC in June of next year.

Both SEAONC and SEAOSC held “Buildings at Risk” summits locally in October about building seismic risks to existing buildings in Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Participants included building owners, city council members and their representatives, local city and state government officials, lending institutions and other public policy related organizations.  The discussion was centered on what can be done to implement seismic retrofit methods for existing buildings at risk to significant earthquake damage or failure, and at the same time begin developing financial methods and time frames so the building retrofitting costs are reasonably affordable to the building owners and those that occupy these buildings. Simply stating, what can be done to increase building resiliency to resist earthquake damage so the majority of buildings can be reoccupied after the earthquake event and the city’s economy can continue forward.  

The importance of building resiliency being, if we can’t reoccupy the majority of the cities’ buildings after the earthquake or other natural disaster, the local economy comes to a screeching halt and takes years to recover.  This has been clearly seen after previous earthquakes like Kobe and Christchurch, as well as other natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. The City of San Francisco has just recently enacted a mandatory seismic retrofit ordinance for soft-story, tuck-under parking type buildings.  They recognized that if people don’t have a place to live locally, they can’t work locally, and the city’s economy could be brought to a standstill as the result of a major earthquake and the loss of this type of housing stock.

Given some general public interest towards increasing building resiliency, I would like to encourage our membership to become more actively involved in their local organizations “Existing Buildings Committees” as well as “Public Relations/Communications Committees”. 

Once new buildings are completed, they immediately become classified as existing buildings; So as time passes they may in future years be subject to seismic retrofit ordinances to remediate issues that weren’t considered to be a problem at the time of their original design. Obviously the number of existing buildings is always increasing, and affords structural engineers a greater pool of potential building projects to work on, whereas most engineers coming out of school assume they will always be working only on new out-of-the-ground building projects.  Being a member of the local existing building committees allows engineers to become more familiar with how older buildings were designed and their inherent seismic deficiencies.   As well as be able to better explain why and what has to be done to strengthen their client’s building.  It also affords the engineer participating on the committee to help develop seismic retrofit requirements for different building types, as the local cities will turn to SEAOC’s member organizations (SEAOCC, SEAONC, SEAOSC, and SEAOSD) to assist them in developing their local seismic retrofit ordinances.

The importance of our members becoming more involved in local community public relations and communications can’t be understated.  We can’t bring about change in local community policies regarding seismic retrofit without active participation by our membership.  I recognize that it’s a very time consuming and often frustrating process to implement new building code changes and building retrofit ordinances.  The most difficult task being explaining to the local community why these types of changes are important, should be implemented and recognizing the financial implications.  But, with continued persistent involvement by our membership, we have a chance to proactively make these types of changes as opposed to being reactive after the next major earthquake and addressing all of the earthquake damage. 

We have had some recent success in the seismic retrofit ordinance implementation process.  SEAONC was very active in partnering with other Bay Area organizations to get the mandatory soft-story retrofit ordinance to happen in the City of San Francisco, so we know it can be achieved.  The City of Los Angeles is also now looking at developing some mandatory building seismic retrofit ordinances as well. SEAOSC is looking to partner with the City of Los Angeles and other local organizations in evaluation the seismic vulnerability of existing buildlings in Los Angeles and assist with the development of methods to remediate any dangerous seismic risks.

Hopefully, you as a member of SEAOC can find some time to participate in either of your local organizations “Existing Buildings Committee” or “Public Relations/Communications Committee” and help bring about these types of changes that are needed for our local communities.  We can make a difference, if we are willing to get involved, and my hope is that our membership will step up and take this challenge on.

With this being my last message to our membership for the year, SEAOC's Board of Directors, the SEAOC executive office and I wish all of our membership a happy and joyful holiday season with family and friends and looks forward with our membership to a prosperous upcoming new year.


Michael Cochran, SE
2013-2014 SEAOC President

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