SEAONC, USRC and SEAONC’s Earthquake Performance Rating System

By Colin Blaney, S.E., SEAONC President

Over the past several weeks many of you may have noticed the whirlwind of activity and discussion related to development of seismic rating systems throughout the state, including: the SEAONC EPRS (Earthquake Performance Rating System), the City of Los Angeles’s mandate for a building rating system, and ATC’s commitment to be a Founding Member the USRC (US Resiliency Council). I wanted to take this opportunity to provide the entire SEAOC membership with a brief update on a few preliminary discussions that have recently occurred amongst relevant industry members.

Given the culmination of several recent events, new opportunities have arisen for those in our profession to influence a new frontier of evaluating and rating of existing buildings. These events include the completion of the long-awaited ATC 58 work, the availability of the SEAONC three-dimensional EPRS (definitions and translation matrix for an ASCE 31/41 evaluation), the formation of the USRC (largely founded by members of SEAONC), and the recent announcement by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that his city will be the first in the United States to implement a rating system to detail the earthquake safety of their buildings. See this article for detailed information about the LA announcement: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-garcetti-wants-la-buildings-to-be-graded-for-earthquake-safety-20140411,0,6736114.story.  We are at a pivotal time for our profession with opportunities arising that some have called “game changing”.  And while there is still significant work ahead and political forces to overcome, these opportunities are very real and exciting. 

Before I continue, I would like to take the opportunity to celebrate what we (SEAONC) have contributed to making these opportunities possible. I want to start with some well-deserved recognition to SEAONC members and particularly a dedicated group within SEAONC’s Existing Buildings Committee who have been actively working since 2006 on the development of an innovative system to rate the performance of existing buildings. Also known as the Earthquake Performance Rating System (EPRS), this work has been presented at several SEAOC Conventions since 2006 and has obtained the slow but steady approval amongst many of our SEAONC members. Championed by Marguerite Bello, Mathew Bittleston, Steven Bono, David Bonowitz, Doug Hohbach, Ron Mayes, David McCormick, and Kate Stillwell, this rating system is intended to translate the results of seismic evaluations by various methods into consistent terms that focus on safety, damage or financial loss, and the time needed to restore functionality in a manner which can be easily understood by the general public.    

Along with many others, I have been keenly following the development of this system since its initial inception in 2006, when, at the request of the Board, it was taken on as a charge by our Existing Buildings Committee. Early work on this ratings system occurred based on the realization that it was needed by the general public, despite the lack of any foreseeable opportunity to implement the system. The initial vision was that any use of such a system would be voluntary with perhaps only the owners of the best buildings getting ratings. Others thought it might be transactionally based, or even driven by social media, in concert with the public’s desire to know how safe their homes, places of work, or even favorite restaurants were. The possible use or triggers were far from apparent, but the motivation was simply, “let’s develop the system just in case it is ever needed”.  As the Chair of the Existing Buildings Committee during that time, I was (and continue to be) very impressed with the work product and motivation of those individuals mentioned above (and others) to continue voluntary work to develop this system.   

At the core of this rating system are several features that have been thoughtfully developed and carefully vetted by these members. They include an evaluation of building performance in three dimensions, with each dimension having five levels and corresponding descriptions of performance in the areas of safety, repair costs, and functional recovery. It also includes translation matrices to convert typical and consensus-based evaluation methodologies into these ratings. Initial work on an ASCE 31/41 translation matrix is almost complete and work has already been started on others.  These are the core aspects of the SEAONC ratings system which we have incubated and which our organization holds dear.   

As mentioned above, all of this visionary “technical” work within SEAONC is at a point where it can be of great use within our built environment.  While SEAONC will continue to develop the SEAONC EPRS and assist with the development of policies for implementation and oversight, our organization is not currently capable of administering such a rating system on any scale. The USRC recognized this some time ago and has been actively working to promote rating systems such as the SEAONC EPRS. Building on the work of the SEAONC Existing Buildings Ratings Committee, and based upon recommendations of an ATC user’s workshop, in 2011 the US Resiliency Council® (USRC) was formed as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization to establish a rating and accreditation system for certifying the expected performance of buildings to natural and man-made hazards.

The formation of the USRC was a response to the expressed needs of the lending, insurance, building owner, tenant, and engineering communities for a seismic performance rating system that:

  • Provides an objective methodology for assessing building performance
  • Is technically credible within the engineering community
  • Clearly communicates building performance to all stakeholders
  • Becomes a vital component of real estate transactions
  • Can be used by owners and tenants to make rational risk management decisions
  • Provides market forces to upgrade seismically deficient buildings

Over the past couple of months, the SEAONC Board has been engaged in active discussions with the Buildings Rating Subcommittee, the USRC, the SEAOC President, and others regarding use of the SEAONC EPRS. While there are many details to be worked out, we are all hopeful that the SEAONC EPRS will form the basis of future local and even national rating systems for the anticipated seismic performance of existing buildings. The ATC Board of Directors also met this past weekend and has agreed to be a Founding Member of the USRC, along with other respected organizations such as EERI, PEER, the LA Tall Buildings Council, and SEAOC.  ATC has also expressed interest in providing technical support where appropriate. 

In short, there are many things in motion and the opportunities and possibilities are exciting. I hope to have more detailed information next month in terms of developments within both SEAONC and SEAOC, but until then, please know that your Board of Directors has been actively engaged in these developments and that we are hopeful that we are moving in a positive direction for our profession.

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