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Why Doesn’t the U.S. Build More Earthquake-Proof Buildings?

schwit1 shares a report from the New York Times flagging America’s surprising low usage of an engineering technique protecting buildings from earthquakes:
Chile, China, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Turkey and other countries vulnerable to earthquakes have adopted the technologies to varying degrees. But with notable exceptions, including Apple’s new headquarters in Silicon Valley, the innovations have been used only sparingly in the United States. Seismic safety advocates describe this as a missed opportunity to save billions of dollars in reconstruction costs after the inevitable Big One strikes….
The debate over whether to build more resilient buildings in the United States has been held largely out of public view, among engineers and other specialists. But at stake is whether places like Silicon Valley, Seattle, Salt Lake City, San Francisco or Los Angeles might be forced to shut down after a direct hit — and for how long. A federal study last year found that a quarter of the buildings in the Bay Area would be significantly damaged after a magnitude-7 earthquake, a disaster that would be compounded by the fact that 9 out of every 10 commercial buildings and 8 out of 10 homes in California are not insured for earthquakes. “Cities won’t be usable for many months, if not years,” said H. Kit Miyamoto, a member of the California Seismic Safety Commission, a government body that advises the state Legislature and the governor on earthquake issues. “Throwaway buildings equal a throwaway city.”

In a severe earthquake, most American buildings are designed to crumple like a car in a head-on collision, dissipating the energy of the earthquake through damage. The goal is to preserve lives, but the building — like a car after an accident — may be useless. Ron Hamburger, an American structural engineer who is perhaps the leading authority on the building code, estimates that half of all buildings in San Francisco could be deemed unoccupiable immediately after a major earthquake…. Evan Reis, a co-founder of the U.S. Resiliency Council, a nonprofit organization, says the biggest impediment is that unlike in Japan, buildings change hands frequently in America and the developers who build them do not see the incentive in making them more robust. “Short-term thinking is absolutely the biggest villain,” Reis said.
The article also points out that California’s governor vetoed a bill last year that would’ve required buidings to be functional after an earthquake.


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