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Cities Nationwide Are Making Seismic Upgrades A Priority

Most days may be calm and serene, but news reports routinely remind us that the potential for disaster is always there under the surface with economic impacts that can severely cripple businesses that don’t plan ahead.

More than 19,000 earthquakes will occur in the United States this year, although luckily most won’t reach magnitude 4.0 or higher, while the Atlantic Hurricane Season that recently began is predicted to spawn 17 named storms and two to four major hurricanes.

While hurricanes can be seen forming in the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico, giving residents in target zones time to prepare, there is no effective warning for when an earthquake will shake the ground.

Advance warning or not, the time to prepare for a natural disaster is when a structure is being built. The monetary investment might be considered steep at first but when that structure is left intact after a disaster, the investment will be money well spent.

“When disaster strikes it’s too late to start planning,” says Douglas P. Taylor, CEO of Taylor Devices, a company that manufactures seismic dampers to protect structures from earthquakes and high winds. “We can’t stop natural disasters, but we can prepare for them through how we construct buildings.”

Taylor says research has come a long way in the last 25 years, and many buildings are now beginning to receive retrofitting, particularly those in locations where earthquakes are prominent. This can be an expensive technique, as some buildings need to have every room secured individually.

The city of Seattle is also taking an economic chance with the construction of a new bridge that is 90 times more expensive than the cost of a normal bridge but is said to be flexible enough that its materials will bend in an earthquake but snap back into place after the tremor. As a result, the bridge can withstand a 7.4 magnitude earthquake and will not require reconstruction afterward.

Washington, Oregon, and California are all preparing for the “Big One,” a 9.0 magnitude earthquake (8.2 magnitudes in California) that is projected to have a 1 in 3 chance of hitting in the next 50 years.

California has spent nearly $14 billion throughout the last three decades retrofitting its bridges, but still has another 200 bridges that it hasn’t touched, while some of those bridges originally upgraded need further upgrades. Oregon is even further behind. The state’s transportation department has deemed more than 600 of its bridges seismically vulnerable.

After the 1989 earthquake in Northern California that registered 6.9 on the Richter Scale and caused more than $5 billion in damage, those on the West Coast of the United States have been trying to find ways to limit the damage the next time a large-scale earthquake comes their way.

“More important than saving buildings and bridges, we are trying to save lives,” says Taylor. “There really isn’t a price that can put on that.”

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