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Without a Recent Earthquake, Efforts at Mitigation Fade

We collectively have short memories.

The last big California earthquake was Northridge that let loose in January 1994. Now, almost 30 years since, people have short memories. See these two items below, courtesy of Eric Reis, Safehub:

During 2022, a diverse coalition of more than 40 businesses, associations, nonprofits and government agencies supported Assembly Bill 1721, which was designed to make many thousands of Californians safer from earthquakes. This support was critical to establishing the California Seismic Retrofitting Program for Soft Story Multifamily Housing. Co-sponsored by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez and Assemblymember Chris Holden, a bi-partisan vote by the Legislature placed this program in the FY 2022-23 budget via SB 189 with $250-million in funding approved for FY 2023-24. This budget was signed by Governor Newsom on June 20, 2022. More recently, however, the proposed budget for FY 2023-24 omitted this funding.

On behalf of the U.S. Resiliency Council, I urge your support for preserving $250-million in funding that was approved for FY 2023-24.

We need to learn from our past!

This program can help minimize the death and destruction California experienced in the Northridge earthquake 29 years ago when 57 people died -- 16 in one apartment building. Another 9,000 were injured and thousands were displaced from their homes. The quake inflicted some $93-billion in damage – the most costly quake in our nation’s history. Your support can help to prevent a repeat of such devastation.

Governor Newsom’s comments on 7.1 Ridgecrest earthquake

In the aftermath of two major earthquakes in Ridgecrest on July 4 and 6, 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom stated “we all have an opportunity now to get more prepared, to be more vigilant, to look at our building codes, look at our home hardening, to look at that alert system.” The Governor went on to add “We all have a unique role and responsibility to prepare individually, to be prepared for the next earthquake of magnitude even greater than 7.1.”

If these quakes had struck in Los Angeles, Governor Newsom indicated we would be talking about a far greater number of people that have ”lost their lives and property damage in the billions.” He stressed the quakes were a “wake up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation that are not immune” from similar kinds of disaster.

This program will benefit communities and vulnerable populations across California more than any seismic legislation in the past 75 years.

Soft-story apartment buildings are among our most vulnerable structures, and their loss in earthquakes would seriously increase the homeless crisis, and disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities. These older, vulnerable buildings typically house the elderly, working families, and students who often have fewer resources to bounce back quickly after their housing is destroyed in a disaster.

Who benefits from this seismic retrofit funding for multifamily housing?

All Californians stand to benefit from this seismic retrofit program. Lives of tenants and employees are protected, owners protect their building investments and reduce liability, risk of environment damage is minimized, and the community’s economic stability is maintained. Earthquake retrofits also help to preserve workforce housing, enhance social equity, reduce homelessness.

Earthquakes are a fact of life in California.  We must improve our resilience!

This program is a model for the nation. We should not jeopardize our resilience momentum and leave thousands of vulnerable California residents facing continued earthquake risks.

Eric here again. The legislation and funding is there to help in fixing a known hazard. These are apartment buildings built over parking on the ground floor. These are known to collapse in earthquakes and have done so in the past. Yet, the further we get away from a disaster — the less emphasis remains to fix the issue.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.