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Is Seattle Making Progress on URM Buildings?

After a four-year "time-out," the topic is back on the table.

The good news is that the city of Seattle has made progress by moving forward — again — with recommendations to address the Unreinforced Masonry (URM) buildings that exist in the city. See SDCI Releases URM Policy Committee Recommendations

A bit of history from the document itself is this quote:

"Previous URM Policy Efforts

Unreinforced masonry buildings are not a new issue for Seattle. In the 1970s, the Seattle City Council passed several ordinances requiring all URM buildings to achieve a given structural standard. The ordinances were eventually repealed when talks between the city and building owners met an impasse due to the cost of implementing the upgrades. SDCI resumed efforts at creating a citywide policy by forming URM policy and technical committees in 2008. The technical committee ultimately recommended adopting a modification of the Bolts Plus retrofit standard commonly used in California. The technical committee recommended the modification (described below) to better address life safety concerns. Policy Committee discussions ultimately were unable to move forward to generate a recommendation primarily due to the cost of retrofits. At the time, the estimate for a retrofit ranged from $5-40 per square foot."

The last time this URM issue was addressed was 2012. That effort died out like earlier tries. Someone who has reviewed the current linked document above, sees it as identical, with minor variations, to the 2012 version.

The question is, will there be enough interest in public safety for this current effort to be successful this time around? I'm thinking about the only thing to ensure its success would be a "small shaker" while this effort is on the table. We seem to be collectively unable, here in Washington state, to move beyond studies and recommendations to action and implementation. 

Eventually the seismic piper will be paid. We've already lost a generation or two of effort. As we continue to gamble with people's lives, eventually "snake eyes" will be rolled and we will be playing the "if only, shoulda, woulda" game.



Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.