LA County will update its building codes after earthquake devastates Turkey, Syria

The director of public works has six months to come up with updated language.

March 1, 2023, 3:53 PM

After an earthquake devastated parts of Turkey and Syria last month, killing 50,000 people, officials in Los Angles County voted Wednesday to update the county's building code and require all non-ductile high-rises to be retrofitted within 10 years.

The motion by the board of supervisors will apply to all buildings in the incorporated areas of the county or buildings owned by the county. The director of public works has six months to come up with updated language for adoption.

While Los Angeles County building standards were previously updated to ensure new construction can withstand seismic activity, non-ductile, concrete high-rises are prone to brittle behavior during an earthquake, according to the board of supervisors.

Workers remove the rubble of collapsed buildings in Antakya, Turkey, after an earthquake caused widespread destruction in the area, Feb. 20, 2023.
AFP via Getty Images

Building owners will be required to submit structural evaluation reports within three years, including plans to retrofit or demolish buildings within five years. A full plan is due within 10 years.

Public works must also submit a report to the board with an inventory analysis of all soft-story residential structures in county incorporated areas or owned or overseen by the county that have not been seismically retrofitted, including the number of units within each structure.

The motion also instructs the directors of public works and consumer and business affairs to come up with programs that support property owners. The expense of seismic retrofits may include zero-interest loan programs and construction subsidies for low-income property owners.

PHOTO: Photo taken in Los Angeles.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The board of supervisors said the county must urgently retrofit and repair vulnerable structures to prevent as much loss of life as possible in the event of an earthquake. A United States Geological Survey simulation of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Southern California predicted such an event could result in nearly 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries.

Wood frame soft-story structures or structures where one or more floors of a building have large, unobstructed spaces that lack additional stabilization are also vulnerable to large-scale seismic activity. Updated building standards have slowly phased out the construction of these buildings, but that only applies to new construction, according to the board of supervisors.

"The county currently lacks an updated building index to assess the volume of vulnerable soft-story structures, and to assess where those buildings might be more concentrated. This assessment must become the County’s priority to prevent disproportionate casualties in Black and Brown communities," the motion said.

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