A Message from the SEAOC President

By Michael Cochran, S.E., SEAOC President

Michael Cochran, SEAOC President

As some of you may have seen in your local association newsletters in the last month or so, SEAOC and the four member organizations SEAOCC, SEAONC, SEAOSC and SEAOSD have all become founding members of the United States Resiliency Council (USRC).  I wanted to take this opportunity to briefly talk further about the USRC and what it means to the structural engineering profession.  

A viable rating system used to estimate the performance of buildings during natural disasters has been an elusive goal for both the engineering and financial institutions in trying to understand the potential for occupant loss of life, the amount of damage likely to occur to the building and the amount of repair time it will take to get the building up and operational again.  The building codes have done a good job to help minimize the chances for loss of life during a natural disaster, but the economic losses can be staggering, and the general public continues to have misconceptions about building performance during natural disasters when designed to current building code minimum requirements.  The financial institutions recognize this economic risk and have been looking to the engineering profession to help them estimate the potential building damage and repair costs for various types of natural disasters.

With the development of analytical tools and analysis documents in recent years, this now allows an organization, like the USRC, an opportunity to correct and better educate the general public about the potential loss of life performance and property damage expectations of our existing building stock during natural disasters, such as earthquakes.  It will also help assist the financial industry and building owners better understand the estimated costs to repair damage and time required to re-occupy the building, hopefully encouraging owners to implement a retrofit program to strengthen the deficiencies in the building prior to the natural hazard occurring.

The mission of the USRC is to be an 'implementation' organization for technically credible rating systems, developed and vetted by other technical organizations, used to estimate individual building performance during natural disasters and man-made disasters.  The anticipated performance is measured in three categories; potential for loss of life, amount of anticipated damage and estimated repair time to have the building up and running again.

As the USRC is now going through the throws of its business operations and organizational set-up, the first rating system was developed by a SEAONC sub-committee for earthquake hazards on the west coast using ASCE 41-13 Evaluation and Retrofit of Existing Buildings.   Other tools include the recently completed ATC 58 project and a system developed by ARUP for new buildings. As other seismic methodologies are developed for analyzing and evaluating buildings in the future it is expected that credible rating systems will be developed for them as well. The goal being to have several methods available for analyzing a building, with all providing a similar expected performance ratings for the building.

It is envisioned that rating systems will likely be developed to address other natural hazards such as earthquake damage in the mid-west and the east coast, wind storm damage (hurricanes & tornados), flooding as well as man-made hazards such as explosions.

To maintain a credible on-going evaluation standard that is acceptable to the financial community, the USRC is incorporating an accreditation process for building evaluators, as well as a peer review process for submitted building performance evaluations.  Since individual judgment is involved in the performance evaluation of a building, the peer review provides a check on the assumptions that lead to the submitted performance evaluation to see if they are in agreement.  If they are not in agreement, an appeal process is being established to allow for re-review of the submitted evaluation.  The appeal process also enables updates and modifications of the rating system criteria as a result of experience with the various types of building structures and advancements in research.

So what does the USRC and use of rating systems mean to the structural engineering profession?  Well, several things.  It means our clients, building owners and financial institutions, and the general public now have an opportunity to better understand anticipated building performance during natural disasters and potentials for loss of life. Something the general public previously has not been well informed of or knowledgeable about.  

Our clients, being better informed, may ask for additional engineering services to improve the anticipated performance of their buildings. The general public being better informed, may bring market forces to bear, and ask more of building owners before they are willing to patronage these buildings or lease office space. Financial institutions may mandate higher performance requirements before they are willing to provide financing for projects.  It’s hard to estimate how quickly some of this will become reality, but with more federal and state financial resources likely being dedicated towards disaster preparedness, it seems inevitable that there will be higher performance expectations of buildings during natural disasters by both the public and private sectors.

The USRC, a rating system implementer organization, opens the doors for new work opportunities for structural engineers by becoming credentialed as an evaluator which can be hired by a building owner to review a property, or to serve on a peer review panel as a paid consultant.  Since the development of rating systems are still in their infancy, there will be opportunities for individuals to be involved with the development process of both future building evaluation methods and estimated performance rating systems.  Structural engineering organizations, such as committees from SEAOC’s member organizations SEAOCC, SEAONC, SEAOSC and SEAOSD, can be at the forefront in the development of these evaluation methods. Some funding for the development and vetting of new different evaluation methodologies and rating systems is anticipated to be made available from both public and private sector organizations. But much of this development will likely still be through the volunteer efforts of the various committees of SEAOC.

As with the roll-out of any new product, there will be some bumps in the road along the way with the USRC, and there are items still to be worked out.  But, the USRC’s goal of better building performance during natural disasters is in line with part of SEAOC’s mission statement of providing the general public with structures of safe and dependable performance.  So SEAOC and our four member organizations SEAOCC, SEAONC, SEAOSC, and SEAOSD are now supporting the USRC as founding members, along with all of California’s major professional organizations involved in earthquake engineering such as ATC, EERI, PEER and LA Tall Building Council.

SEAOC is interested in your thoughts about the USRC and we would like to hear back from our membership since the operational and organization status of the USRC is still in development. 

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