In many parts of the country, earthquakes are an ever-present danger. According to FEMA, seismic damage causes up to $4.4 billion in damages each year in the United States. While most seismic damage is most notable in California, Oregon, and Washington, other states are still vulnerable to earthquakes. Even areas that are not commonly thought to suffer from earthquake damage, like the East Coast, have experienced losses over the past several years as well.
Getting an earthquake evaluation and assessment of existing buildings is a must. Pedram Zohrevand, a research scientist, presents the top 8 reasons why this evaluation needs to be performed to protect the property values and protect the occupants.
1. The Risk is Not Zero
As previously mentioned, earthquakes sometimes occur outside of the areas where they are the most common. Seismically active regions outside the Western states include Little Rock, Arkansas; Evansville, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; and St. Louis, Missouri. FEMA has taken part in mapping and examining earthquake risks in each of these urban areas. While the overall risk is lower in the East and Midwest than it is in the West, the fact remains that there is a serious vulnerability to earthquake damage in other areas as well.
2. Outdated Building Standards
Even in earthquake-prone parts of the country, many buildings are not constructed to meet stringent seismic safety standards. Three types of buildings that are particularly vulnerable to earthquake damage include soft-story buildings, non-ductile concrete buildings, and wood-framed buildings with unbraced/unbolted cripple walls.
Soft-story buildings consist of multiple floors with large openings on the lower floor, intended for tuck-under parking or commercial windows. These buildings are prone to collapse during earthquakes.
Non-ductile concrete buildings are particularly vulnerable to collapse under seismic forces. These buildings are brittle and unable to move with earthquake forces.
Small wood-framed buildings with unbraced/unbolted cripple walls are also problematic when it comes to earthquake damages. The insufficient lateral strengths and the missing footing anchorage of these cripple walls make these buildings very vulnerable against earthquake shakes.
3. Potential for Injuries and Damages
Earthquake damage to buildings can not only be financially devastating, but it also could cause physical injuries, or even worse, fatalities. It makes sense that all building owners should have their properties inspected to confirm they are as safe as possible in the event of an earthquake.
Property owners may be financially responsible for any injuries or deaths that occur due to an earthquake. Some businesses do hold an earthquake insurance, but many times, this insurance only covers damages and losses to the property.
USGS estimates that a major earthquake along the infamous San Andreas Fault could cause upwards of 50,000 injuries. However, this estimate could be lessened if more buildings were evaluated and retrofitted to modern earthquake safety standards.
4. Higher Property Values
Having a well-suited property to withstand earthquake damages can lead to higher resale value and more potential buyers. Any necessary retrofit will need to be disclosed when selling a property. Not surprisingly, when potential buyers do not need to pay for a significant retrofit, they are willing to spend more to purchase it.
For an average single-family wood-framed home, earthquake retrofitting costs between $3,000 and $7,000. Larger homes built on hillsides and with soft story features like extensive windows and garages underneath can cost more to retrofit. This retrofit is only a fraction of the cost compared to other home maintenance, like a new roof, but it could pay off immeasurably in safety.
5. Enforcement by Authorities
In many states, such as California, buildings are required to meet specific earthquake codes. Many ordinances were passed by local governments enforcing the seismic retrofit of existing buildings built before the 1980s. Failure to comply with these ordinances result in significant penalties. The owners of these old buildings can avoid considerable financial consequences by retrofitting their buildings as soon as they receive notices from the City.
6. Protecting the Use of Your Property
If an earthquake damages your home, it may take months or even years to make the necessary repairs. You may even have to take out a loan to afford the repairs. People often must move out of their homes during major repairs, and consequently, rental costs tend to skyrocket after major disasters.
7. Unknown and Unexpected Faults
The major named faults, like California’s San Andreas Fault, are not the only risk. Many damaging earthquakes happen on undiscovered or unexpected faults. For example, the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquake in California occurred on an unknown fault. This 6.7 magnitude earthquake caused over 1 billion dollars in damages.
Understanding Why Evaluation and Retrofitting Are Important
Pedram Zohrevand emphasizes the need for preparedness for potential earthquake damages. When homeowners consider the severe consequences that could follow a massive earthquake, they are more likely to consult with a professional engineer. Fortunately, it is much less expensive to retrofit a home than it is to replace it.