Getting Ready For The 'Big One'

A look at how individuals and institutions are bracing for the next great shake

Matt Bigler
October 17, 2019 - 5:00 am
SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 17: General view of the Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale, rocks game three of the World Series between the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on October 17,

Otto Greule Jr /Getty Images

Retrofitting usually involves bolting a building to its foundation and bracing what is known as cripple walls in older homes.

For over two decades, the city of San Leandro has been offering a workshop for homeowners to learn how to seismically strengthen their own homes. 

“Retrofitting not only helps residents protect their biggest investment, but it puts less of a burden on Red Cross,” said Michael Jefferies, the city's Supervising Building Inspector. “If you want to live in a gymnasium, knock yourself out. But if you can keep your house on a foundation, you’re going to save your sewer pipes, gas pipes, electrical, and water.”

There are no laws requiring single family homes to be retrofitted, but some cities do have strengthening mandates for soft story apartment buildings, which is the type that collapsed in the Marina District during the Loma Prieta disaster. 

As for hospitals, the state does require that they meet certain seismic standards by the year 2030.

“Part of these 2030 requirements is that we have our ability to fight a fire on sight,” said Larry Kollerer, Sutter Health's executive director of project delivery. He recently showed KCBS Radio behind-the-scenes of the new California Pacific Medical Center Van Ness Campus, the first to utilize viscous wall dampers, which are steel boxes filled with a gel-like substance. He described the substance as a, “very thick, unstirred peanut butter.”

While the $2 billion dollar building is ready for the next ‘big one’, Kollerer says many older hospital facilities are not.

“Generally speaking, they are making the choice to replace. The ones that haven’t made that choice have not yet dealt with the 2030 requirements,” Kollerer explained.

It’s a race against time, where no one but Mother Nature knows where the seismic finish line will be.