Clickability tracking pixel

Historical Preservation and Seismic Life Safety Collide

Doing nothing is an option that is currently being taken.

by Eric Holdeman / April 1, 2021

Those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis may find my fixation on the lack of emphasis on life safety when it comes to unreinforced masonry buildings (URM) a recurring theme. But, since no action is being taken, there is the opportunity to shine a spotlight on the issue every chance I get. Here’s a piece I wrote previously for on the subject: “Unreinforced Masonry Buildings.”

For this blog post, see this online exhibit: “When Seattle Shakes.” Because of the pandemic, it is only available online. There is an interactive map that shows hazards and URM buildings. Also look at the tsunami inundation overlay that is included. Yikes! If you know where these are along the waterfront — let’s say my building at the Seattle World Trade Center — stay in the building and do not go outside, and get off the first floor, too!

The Seattle Times has a nice article on the exhibit and the issues surrounding URM, hopefully the link will work for you: “‘When Seattle Shakes’ online exhibition explores historical preservation and seismic risks.”

Some quotes from the article:

“‘My area of work is historic preservation, so I could see how the overlap between seismic preparedness and historic preservation is a more complicated issue than people would initially think.’ In fact, it’s such a complex (and expensive) issue, the city of Seattle has been putting off doing something about it for decades.

“The last two serious attempts to require upgrades to unreinforced masonry buildings, referred to in the exhibit as URMs, failed. The first, new laws enacted in the mid-1970s, were quickly repealed because of pushback (over the expense). Another attempt in the first decade of this century was eventually mothballed, and while committee work continues, there’s no real push amid other pressing (and expensive) problems, like homelessness and vaccinations.

“‘It shouldn’t be political, but oftentimes decisions become so because it’s not popular and because it could cost people money — just sort of the conundrum that we know the mandate is important because we want public safety,’ Woo said. ‘Safety is important. But at the same time, it’s not inexpensive to upgrade buildings and many people can’t afford it. And it could be disruptive if a building’s occupied with tenants.’”


And so the story continues. As noted previously in these pages, we’ll address the issue — right after the next big earthquake that kills people in URM buildings. Sometimes the best we can hope for is that there is a big earthquake somewhere else in the United States that would then motivate the political types to “study the issue some more” and even make some recommendations. That’s progress! Recommendations, yes now we are getting somewhere ... not!


E.REPUBLIC Platforms & Programs