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LA Mayor calls for USRC Building Rating System

LA Times 

April 11, 2014     |By Rong-Gong Lin II, Rosanna Xia, Doug Smith

Mayor Eric Garcetti wants buildings across Los Angeles to be graded for their seismic safety as part of an ambitious plan to help residents understand the earthquake risks of their office buildings and apartments.

Garcetti announced what would be the nation's first seismic safety grading system for buildings during his State of the City address Thursday, when he also for the first time said he supports some type of mandatory retrofitting of older buildings that have a risk of collapse in a major earthquake.

Informing the public about the quake safety risks of buildings has been discussed for years but until now has gained little political traction. The details of L.A.'s rating system are still being worked out but it would involve some type of scientific assessment that would rank the safety of various buildings, said Lucy Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist whom Garcetti recently appointed as the city's earthquake advisor.

Jones called Garcetti's proposal "unprecedented" and said it was a significant move in improving seismic safety in Los Angeles.

Jones said a rating system developed by the U.S. Resiliency Council, a volunteer group of structural engineers, could serve as a model. That system uses ratings of 1 to 5 stars.

A 1-star building would signify multiple, widespread deaths, while 2 stars would warn of deaths in isolated areas. Three stars would mean no deaths; four stars, no injuries; and five stars would mean no one would be expected to be trapped. The stars could be posted in the lobby.

The rating system is likely to face opposition from building owners, who in the past have feared that their properties would lose value if rated as being at risk in the event of a huge temblor. Jones said she has already been talking to owner and tenant groups about what the system could look like.

"Some critics say the cost of seismic upgrades may be high. But as we saw with hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the cost of being unprepared is much higher," he said.

The mayor also said that two recent moderate quakes in the area were "literal wake-up calls to remind us that the Big One is indeed coming."