Do You Understand Your Buildings Performance in an Earthquake or Other Natural Disasters?
The USRC building rating system identifies expected consequences of an earthquake or other hazards affecting buildings. The rating considers the performance of a building’s structure, its mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, and architectural components such as cladding, windows, partitions, and ceilings. The performance of these elements affects occupant safety, the cost and time to carry out necessary repairs, and when you can begin using the building following an event.
The USRC Building Rating System assigns one to five stars for three performance measures—Safety, Damage expressed as repair cost and Recovery expressed as time to regain basic function. The USRC plaque is the building owner’s mark of commitment to Tenant Safety, Minimal Damage, and Quick Recovery in the event of a natural disaster.
USRC’s approach provides consistency, usefulness and transparency to increase free market demand for better performing buildings. The attention to building safety and business continuity will over time improve the building stock and make our cities and communities more resilient.
Currently, the USRC is offering building ratings for earthquakes. Ratings for other hazards are expected to be developed soon.
Issued by the USRC, a Verified Rating can be used for promotional, marketing and publicity purposes to
distinguish your building. Your Verified Rating includes a technical review of each building’s evaluation
by USRC Certified Engineers prior to its issuance by the USRC.
Learn more about the Verified Earthquake Rating
This rating gives your team a reliable transactional due diligence report for making well-informed
property investment decisions and managing risk exposure, accommodating both the schedule and cost
demands of the leasing, sales, finance and insurance representatives of the real estate industry. Random
technical reviews of your Transaction Rating are performed to maintain credibility. Your Transition
Rating is limited to three stars in each dimension and registration with the USRC is confidential. It also
provides a means to deliver consistent information regardless of the engineer performing the
Learn more about the Transaction Earthquake Rating
Click on a heading below for more information on USRC Ratings.
What is included in a USRC Rating?
The SAFETY rating describes the potential for people in the building to get out of the building unharmed after an event.
The DAMAGE rating describes the estimated cost to repair the building after an event. Damage is a percentage of the building’s replacement cost.
The RECOVERY rating expressed as the time to regain basic function is an estimate of the minimum time required to effect repairs and to remove safety hazards and obstacles to an extent necessary for using the building. Additional time might be needed to restore the building to provide the functions and operations at levels prior to the event.
For earthquake hazards, ratings are based on ground shaking intensity expected to occur an average once every 475 years. Shaking with this intensity is likely to occur during the lifetime of buildings. The International Building Code has used this benchmark shaking for the design of new buildings.
What is not included in a USRC Rating?
The USRC star ratings reflect performance estimates made by USRC certified engineers who
have reviewed the building’s engineering design. Many factors beyond the control of an
engineer affect the performance of a building. You should understand what these
are and take steps to protect your interests accordingly. These factors include the following:
- Hazard intensity often varies from the intensities expected for the region;
- Construction might deviate from the plans, or changes could have been made after the rating review has taken place.
- Building occupants might introduce hazardous materials or create additional hazards.
USRC ratings do not address the following:
DAMAGE DOES NOT INCLUDE the following:
- Damage caused by fire and water and gas pipes that break as a result of the event;
- Damage to the building contents or tenant improvements such as equipment, furnishings or communication systems;
- Market conditions following the event such as increases in construction costs;
- Specialized work to repair historic features or remove hazardous materials;
- Building upgrades or improvements required by building codes; and
- Business interruption (these costs depend on the each occupant’s specific business processes and requirements).
RECOVERY DOES NOT INCLUDE the following
- The time needed to fully restore all building functions;
- The time needed to repair all damage described in the paragraph above;
- The time needed by others to repair utilities and transportation systems that provide access and services to the building, or to remove hazards from adjacent buildings; and
- The time required to comply with governmental requirements or to design repairs, arrange financing and secure construction workers.
Knowing these USRC rating definitions and limitations allows building owners and tenants to prepare for natural hazards, improve occupant safety, reduce repair costs and shorten the time to regain partial and full building use. The USRC strongly recommends that building tenants carefully consider the basis for the rating, excluded items and associated uncertainty, and then take measures to remove hazards from the work place and prepare plans for business resumption.
Seismic building codes are minimum performance standards intended to limit the likelihood of collapse in a very rare earthquake. However, substantial damage may occur in many structures rendering them unfit for occupancy or use. For a new building, a seismic design that results in a four or five star USRC rating may add only 1 to 10 percent to construction costs, or about as much as a typical contingency budget.
The USRC rating system allows an owner to specify the desired level of performance rather than accept the default performance of a building designed to the minimum level prescribed by the building code. A USRC rating empowers developers and building owners to make informed decisions about what aspects of performance matter most to them and to explore the cost-effectiveness of seeking higher levels of performance.
Most cities do not require that an existing building be brought into full compliance with the current building code when an owner voluntarily seeks to improve a building’s structural capacity. Even after safety issues are corrected, performance expectations can vary widely and remain unknown. The full benefits and value of mitigation efforts are often not well understood. The USRC rating system allows owners to show that the anticipated building performance aligns with an objective standard. Likely performance can be understood, and higher levels of performance will be demonstrated.
Meeting the Credibility Challenge
Existing risk quantification metrics are subject to real or perceived distortion and manipulation within the marketplace. The USRC has both a certification and technical review program for professionals who provide USRC Building Ratings. Certification requires both experience and specific knowledge of structural engineering and the performance of buildings subject to different natural and man-made hazards..
The public generally holds to the misconception that a building built to modern codes in California is "earthquake proof." In fact, past and current codes only intend to produce buildings that avoid collapse in a large, rare event such as a repeat of the 1906 Earthquake. The possibility that hundreds or thousands of newer structures might be left uninhabitable, nonfunctional and essentially total losses after such an event nonetheless conforms with the Building Code's intent.
The USRC is targeting all building stakeholder groups as adopters and users of the USRC Building Rating System.
- Owners use USRC Ratings because properties having high USRC ratings benefit from increased perceived value, potentially increasing leasing rates and transaction efficiency. For example, in Tokyo market awareness of building performance result in price differentiation. Office buildings rated on par with a USRC five star rating receive 40 percent higher lease rates than equivalent buildings with a rating similar to a USRC three star rating. The benefits of an USRC rating can be similar to the benefits associated with LEED® accredited properties which demonstrate that buyer’s, lease’s and renters are prepared to pay a premium for highly rated buildings.
- Lenders and Insurers use USRC Ratings to make informed real estate transactions associated with lending decisions and defining insurance products.
- Tenants and Lease's Value a USRC Rating as it relates to both safety and recovery time following a major event and to make go/no go leasing decisions.
- Governments and Institutions use USRC Ratings to identify safe buildings and make long-term strategic plans for reducing reconstruction costs and recovery time following earthquakes. Many government buildings, such as those providing emergency services, social services, utility services and other critical government programs and recovery planning and funding, repair services should be rated as having four or five stars. Currently over 40 jurisdictions in California require “Green” or LEED® certification of new public and private developments to improve long-term sustainability. The next step in this progression is to include earthquake performance in big picture resilience of our communities. .
- Architects use USRC Ratings as an integral part of resilient design strategies for their clients. .
- Los Angeles City has decided to be the first city in the world to adopt and implement a voluntary rating system, utilizing the system designed by the USRC. They will disseminate information about the rating system to the public about how the rating system works, and how they can use the information. In addition they intend to rate all City-owned buildings to set an example.