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Seattle Addressing the Unreinforced Masonry Building Threat

You can call me a doubting Thomas.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. However, I remember how long it took Seattle to come up with a solution for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and then implement that solution. The Nisqually Earthquake happened in 2001. That took 18 years!

My concern is they will come up with a solution that is rejected. Consensus, which is the Seattle way, means doing the absolute minimum possible, as slowly as possible. Please, please prove me wrong!

This article below came from the Puget Sound Business Journal:

Seattle jump-starts effort to fix buildings at risk from earthquakes

It took five decades, but the Seattle City Council has created the process to develop a mandatory retrofit program for seismically susceptible unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs).

The council last week passed a resolution to have the Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI), Office of Emergency Management and other city agencies craft the mandatory retrofit program in consultation with building owners and others.

There are over 1,100 URMs in Seattle, which according to city officials has an 86% risk of being hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake in the next 50years. The last 6.8 event was the 2001 Nisqually quake, which injured
about 400 people, caused around $2 billion in property damage and led to $8 million in repairs to URMs in Seattle.

“I want to emphasize the city would not put mandatory standards in place next year,” SDCI Director Nathan Torgelson said during an earlier council committee meeting. Included in SDCI’s 2022 budget is money for a full-time staff member to begin planning the mandatory retrofit program, which likely will be phased based on the structural soundness of different buildings.

The cost of retrofitting and financing buildings has derailed past efforts to implement a retrofit program. The city several years ago hired the nonprofit National Development Council to study the cost of upgrading
URMs, and it ended up at around $1.2 billion.

Other cities have tried as well and struggled against the issue where lives literally are at stake. In Seattle, over 33,000 people are living and working in URMs, according to the Alliance for Safety, Affordability and
Preservation (ASAP).

The ASAP coalition of over 100 community groups, developers, URM owners, historic preservation advocates and others has been working for several years to seek development of a URM seismic retrofit program with city-funded technical experts.

Portland tried to put together a program but didn’t include how to finance pricey retrofits, said ASAP member and developer Brad Padden, founder and CEO of Seattle-based Housing Diversity Corp. Los Angeles quickly put together an upgrade process that resulted in a lot of building demolitions, he added.
“Preservation is an important part of this,” said Padden, who noted many people who live and work in URMs or shop and eat at businesses in the old buildings don’t recognize the risk.

That makes it an equity issue, said Padden, who has completed two retrofits of URMs. “It was a visceral experience going into these buildings and peeling back everything that’s been there for 100, 110 years, seeing how it was put together. It’s scary because there’s no connections between posts and beams,” he said.

This year will be remembered as a year the region tackled the URM issue. In November, the King County Council adopted a county-administered C-PACER financing program. The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience program allows property owners to secure low-interest loans for seismic retrofits, stormwater measures, fire protection, clean energy and efficiency system upgrades.

The program ties the obligation to repay loans to the property rather than the owner. If the building is sold, the loan repayment obligation stays with the property rather than the owner. Seattle stands out among other cities, said Office of Emergency Management Director Curry Mayer. No other entity has put in place a program with “this level of detail (and) this level of private-public partnership with this phased approach,” she said.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.