A ShakeOut focus on resilience

As millions of people participate in earthquake drills as part of the ShakeOut, resilience experts note the importance of preparation, especially for businesses. A new resilience webinar series was announced.

By Megan Sever, science writer and editor (@megansever4)

Citation: Sever, M., 2020, A ShakeOut focus on resilience, Temblor, http://doi.org/10.32858/temblor.126

downtown Los Angeles buildings
In an inventory the City of Los Angeles undertook to examine its seismic risk, the city found about 15,000 structures that are vulnerable in Los Angeles alone. Credit: pixabay.com


Millions of people across the world today — some 2.3 million in Los Angeles County alone — jumped under their desks, held on, and covered their heads as part of the Great ShakeOut.

The ShakeOut, held annually in October, is designed to make people think about earthquake safety: what to do when an earthquake strikes — drop, cover and hold on — and how to prepare ahead of time. For individuals, preparation means everything from having an emergency meetup plan and putting together an emergency kit to seismically retrofitting your home and getting earthquake insurance. For businesses, preparation tends to mean more the latter.

It means being “proactive about earthquake safety and preparedness,” said Evan Reis, executive director of the U.S. Resiliency Council (USRC), at a press conference in Los Angeles yesterday. “Investing in retrofitting our existing building stock and making our new buildings more resilient to earthquakes is essential to keeping our residents safe and protecting our economy,” he said.


Speakers at a press conference at the LA Area Chamber of Commerce
Speakers at a press conference at the LA Area Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 14, announcing a new year-long seismic resilience webinar series. At the podium is Evan Reis (USRC). Left to right behind Reis: Glenn Pomeroy (CEA), Maria Salinas (LA Area Chamber of Commerce), Fiona Ma (State Treasurer), Aaron Gross (City of Los Angeles), Tracy Hernandez (BizFed), Stephen Cheung (LAEDC) and Ali Sahabi (Optimum Seismic). Credit: Optimum Seismic


The press conference was convened to announce a new year-long series of webinars designed to promote earthquake resilience especially for businesses. The series, which will include discussions with experts in seismic retrofitting, seismologists, engineers, and public and private sector leaders, starts in November and registration is free at the USRC website.

“We encourage all local businesses and organizations to participate,” said Tracy Hernandez, founding CEO of BizFed, an LA County business alliance, at the press conference. After all, Hernandez said, businesses need to prepare for and respond to natural hazards. In California, earthquakes are a fact of life; it’s not a matter of if, but when, the next one strikes. The better everyone prepares, the readier we’ll be to respond.

If 2020 — with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread destruction caused by wildfires and hurricanes — has taught us nothing else, it’s that “preparation and resiliency has never been more key to our business community’s survival,” Hernandez said. “We must be resilient to ensure our buildings stand, our economy hums and our employees are safe.”

The term “resilience” has been a buzz word recently. It means having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.

When the 1994 magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake rattled the Los Angeles area, more than 80,000 structures were damaged or destroyed, to the tune of $50 billion in damage, and many businesses never recovered, noted Stephen Cheung, COO of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), at the press conference. Thousands of jobs were lost for good. “We want to make sure we don’t find ourselves in the same devastating situation once again,” he said.

“When a building collapses during an earthquake, an owner or lessee is left with no operating business,” Hernandez said. If there’s no business in operation, workers lose their livelihoods. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, when people lose their jobs, they can’t put food on the table and pay their rent or mortgage, added Ali Sahabi, CEO of Optimum Seismic, a seismic retrofitting company. Optimum Seismic is a partner with USRC, the LA Area Chamber of Commerce, LAEDC and BizFed on the new webinar series. These impacts can be prevented, though, Sahabi said.


Ali Sahabi from Optimum Seismic talks about economic benefits of seismic retrofitting at Wednesday’s press conference.
Ali Sahabi from Optimum Seismic talks about economic benefits of seismic retrofitting at Wednesday’s press conference. Credit: Optimum Seismic


Such preventions include retrofitting existing buildings and ensuring new buildings are built according to the most up-to-date earthquake standards. Modern earthquake-resistant building codes have only been around since the late 1990s — post Northridge, Reis said. “Almost 90% of buildings in major cities were built before the 1990s,” he said. That means more than 150,000 buildings in the state of California need retrofitting, he added.

Paying for these retrofits is always an issue. The California Earthquake Authority — a publicly funded, privately managed, not-for-profit residential insurance broker — offers grants to homeowners who retrofit their homes, and lenders like Fannie Mae and HUD, plus the insurance industry are considering ways to provide discounts for business owners who retrofit their buildings or design to higher standards, Reis noted. The state also offers a seismic safety loan program and loans through the PACE program. But it’s also a case of needing to spend a bit now to save a bit later.

“For every dollar spent today, we are going to save $4 in the future in the event of a major seismic catastrophe,” said California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, who works on resilience policies at the state and local level.


Shear bracing with Taylor dampers in a retail building.
Shear bracing with Taylor dampers in a retail building. Credit: Ross Stein, Temblor


Replacing an affordable housing multifamily building in California destroyed in an earthquake, for example, would probably cost about $700,000, Sahabi said. Retrofitting one would cost $5,000 to $10,000, he said. Retrofitting, of course, does not guarantee that a building isn’t damaged or destroyed in an earthquake, but it gives it a better chance.

“I want to assure you by taking these simple steps, you’re able to safeguard your business and can save a lot of money and also heartache in the future as well,” Cheung said.

Look, Reis said, we know that “when the big one hits, the impacts on our infrastructure, our communities, our businesses are going to be profound. Resilience is not just good policy, it’s good business.”

If you missed the ShakeOut today, don’t worry — you can do it anytime. Just go to www.shakeout.org to register and get more information.