USSC E‑Newsletter

February 10, 2004                                                                                                              Volume 2, Number 1


In This Issue

·   Learning from Earthquakes

·    January Commission Meeting Notes

·    Barry’s Babble

Division of Emergency Services and Homeland Security

Utah Geological Survey

Utah Seismic Safety Commission

Links of Note:

Western States Seismic Policy Council – Earthquake Program Information Center

Advanced National Seismic System – USGS Earthquake Hazards Program

FEMA HAZUS: Natural Hazard Loss Estimation Methodology

Earthquake Engineering Research Institute
University of UtahUtah Earthquake Information”

Contact Me:

Barry H. Welliver

Learning from Earthquakes

A recent article in the February 2004 EERI newsletter compares the December 26th, 2003 Bam, Iran earthquake with that of the December 22nd, 2003 San Simeon, California event. Both were of similar magnitude and depth yet they resulted in significantly different physical and societal effects.

While Bam affected a much larger population, the lesson is all too familiar. An earthquake doesn’t occur for some time, people get complacent, and then the reminder. Building construction in Bam is the targeted problem and unfortunately many people lost their lives.

San Simeon was kinder to building occupants, but even two people dead is cause to wonder if something could have been done to save them.

The “Learning from Earthquakes” program of the National Science Foundation and EERI sent investigators to both sites and reports are available as well as planned technical briefings.

The quote of note to me was “Engineering reconnaissance in Paso Robles shows that even moderate strengthening and retrofitting of masonry buildings led to a remarkable difference in their seismic response, with no observations of collapse in retrofitted structures”

Perhaps we can fashion sound arguments out of these facts and help persuade decision-makers in Utah to move forward on the issues of existing buildings.

January 16th 2004 USSC Meeting Notes

If you were there, you may have a different take on what transpired, but if you weren’t there, here’s a bit about what happened.

§         We’ll be having a 10 year anniversary in July with some kind of recognition of the USSC and its founders.

§         The Existing Buildings initiative will focus on success stories, endorsement of the International Existing Building Code in Utah, and the updating of the URM Dwelling document.

§         There’s an Earthquake conference at UGS on February 26 and 27, 2004.

§         International Building Code ground shaking maps will be developed by UGS/DES/USSC for the building community.

§         Three schools have been awarded Student Research Grants for this coming year.

§         We have money in our budget which can be used to further the purposes of the commission’s goals.

§         Draper’s Geologic Hazards ordinance was endorsed by the commission.

§         FEMA 366 “Creating a Seismic Safety Advisory Board” was distributed to commissioners.

§         The Marriott Library retrofit was endorsed unanimously.

§         Earthquake Insurance in Utah was presented to the commission.

§         Our Matrix/Strategy committee report was compressed due to time constraints. With recent events at the state level, the committee may want to rethink that word “matrix” (or not).

§         And lastly, the tour of the Alcohol Beverage Control Facility was very impressive.



Barry’s Babble

I had a call from a building manager shortly after our January meeting, asking if I knew why earthquake insurance was so costly. His concern was that he apparently was being quoted what he felt were high premium rates even though his unreinforced masonry building had been retrofitted.

Since I was the engineer who “retrofitted” this building some years ago, I felt obliged to help educate him on some of the issues that had been discussed with the architect and owner when the design was originally selected. Terms like ‘collapse prevention’ and ‘life safety’ are hard to deny as worthy design intents, but mix this with ‘protection of property’ and decision-makers suddenly realize their duty to evaluate risk. Often this responsibility is not grasped initially and issues like the cost of insurance help bolster the idea that seismic safety can mean many things to many people.

Of course now with the financial concern in front of the occupants, the realization that there is no such thing as “earthquake-proof” buildings seemed a bit harsh. It made me wonder if the design community is doing enough to help owners evaluate their long-term risk.

Luckily, I was fresh off a USSC presentation on earthquake insurance and was able to recommend individuals this manger could query further. I wondered if this little coincidence wasn’t saying something that we need to hear.

A brief flare-up by a legislator during a sub-committee meeting regarding the funding for the Marriott Library retrofit brought up another issue of note. Seems this representative was concerned about the potential liability the University of Utah and the state held once a structure is deemed dangerous and made the focus of attention. These are good questions, and ones needing the attention of responsible parties.

In California some time ago, legislators determined that if public schools were not safe then they would need to hold those in charge of their construction accountable. School officials responded quickly and history has confirmed the benefits of that significant act in improving public school safety in the state.

So my word for the day is ‘responsibility’. Recognize it. Act on it.


Barry H. Welliver