Many S.L. Buildings Need Upgrades Before Earthquake

Many S.L. Buildings Need Upgrades Before Earthquake

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Ed Yeates ReportingUtah structural engineers, along with the state's Seismic Safety Commission, are about to undertake an aggressive campaign to upgrade thousands of aging buildings--buildings which could crumble in an earthquake.

Tens of thousands of these buildings, called URM's or Unreinforced Masonry Structures are all over the place along the Wasatch Front. Engineers and the Seismic Safety Commission say they simply can no longer ignore the problem.

Barry Welliver, Chairman, Utah Seismic Safety Commission: "We're attacking the problem from the outside in. We realize it's an economic problem for one. Obviously it's a cost increment in any rehab project, but we're looking at it from the standpoint of where we can get it, we will go for it."

There are mandates already on the books, but this the campaign now will also strongly encourage and advise government and private property owners to upgrade and retrofit even less visible masonry structures.

Barry Welliver, Chairman, Utah Seismic Safety Commission: "We came up this past year with a twist to the code that said if you increase the number of people involved in your building, that you need to do something."

So what are URM's, as they're called? It's any building with walls of varying thickness of bricks and mortar where the roof and floors rest in pockets or ledges with few if any attachments. Structural engineer and commission chairman, Barry Welliver says "Earthquakes test these fragile connections and produce significant damage with alarming consistency."

Commerical URM's alone account for 39 percent of the buildings in Salt Lake and will produce 68 percent of the expected losses. Residential homes will produce another 39 to 45 percent of those losses.

Welliver says the 15 member Seismic Safety Commission will target projects where owners are already investing more money in their buildings, suggesting now is the time to do even more.

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