We have all seen the many disasters that occur because of earthquakes, such as the 6.6-magnitude quake in central Norcia, Italy, which killed nearly 300 people (BBC, 2016). Earthquakes are a hugely powerful natural force. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, it can make you feel somewhat helpless to the rage of Mother Nature.
Most buildings are constructed with softstories. Softstory buildings are dubbed so as one of their floors are much less rigid than those above them. These can be spaces such as an open-spaced car parking lot that is inadequately reinforced. This makes them less able to withstand earthquake damage. These soft stories are unable to withstand the lateral movements that earthquakes impose. It’s a terrifying thought. Once the softstory goes, the rest of the building collapses down on top of it like vertical dominoes. Worse yet, many buildings in high population areas have softstories. The California Institute of Technology estimated that out of 20,000 soft story buildings in Los Angeles, just 800 of them had been protected against earthquakes (Jessup and Tokumatsu, 2011). Many buildings across the world are at risk, along with occupants’ lives.
What can be done? How can lives and buildings be protected? Softstory retrofitting is a process devised by structural engineers to help address this problem. By filling in the vacant softstory space and offering greater support, the building is more able to withstand earthquake-induced movement. Many buildings, in fact, do not even have lateral support, or theyare very weak. By strengthening the lateral support, buildings and people can be protected. This idea to update soft story buildings is supported and promoted by many organizations. For Earthquake-prone areas in the US like Los Angeles, there are government schemes in place. The Los Angeles Soft Story Retrofit program is a mandatory scheme to building owners to strengthen soft stories of vulnerable buildings. Buildings affected will have two or more stories made of wooden frames, be built before 1978, or have open space in the ground floor. Owners should consult an architect, engineer, and a contractor and complete the work within seven years from the date of an Order to Retrofit issued by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS).
The softstory retrofit cost can be very pricey, sometimes to more than $100,000 (Selna, 2008).This projected cost in the current economic climate is an impossible target to many building owners. However, financing options are available for building owners, including: passing on 50% of the costs to tenants through capped rent increases, and the division of the softstory retrofit cost between units.
There is a 99% probability of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake or above occurring in California within the next thirty years. Soft story retrofitting must take place quickly and on a huge scale, or earthquake-prone areas across the world like California are in severedanger. Without the adequate changes, so a game of Russian Roulette with Mother Nature begins.