Seismic upgrades still lacking for 1,100 buildings in Seattle

Seismic upgrades still lacking for 1,100 buildings in Seattle (PHOTO: KOMO News)

SEATTLE – The damaging earthquake in Alaska prompted a question to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network: Does it increase the chances of a big one hitting here?

"Our odds of having a big earthquake are pretty much the same as they were yesterday and the same they are tomorrow,” said Mouse Reusch, the ShakeAlert regional coordinator. “So there is perhaps a minuscule increase in the odds but it's nothing that you should take the day off from work for.”

What scientists are certain of is that it's not a matter of "if," it's a matter of "when" a major earthquake hits our region, and Seattle is busy addressing its danger zones.

The city has 1,100 brick or stone buildings that lack any steel supports. Property owners are being pushed to make the upgrades but the high cost is the biggest stumbling block.

In Pioneer Square, un-reinforced masonry buildings loom over surrounding streets. Although their historic nature carries a certain charm, they also pose a hazard to people who work and live in them.

Larry Grella volunteers at Gallery Erato, which rents space in a building that has undergone extensive seismic upgrades. He showed off the steel girders that are cross-braced for strength, then took us downstairs to explain how the reinforcement is anchored into new concrete.

These are measures city engineers want to make mandatory.

“If you are a building owner and you are going to rent it out or use it in some fashion, it will only make sense to bring it up-to-date,” Grella said.

However, many building owners have said they can't retrofits without raising rent. Seattle still plans to make seismic upgrades mandatory in these older buildings, but city leaders first want to line up incentives to lessen the costs.

Some of the ideas being considered is to explore eligibility requirements for schools to receive federal grants. Many businesses could qualify for low-interest SBA loans. City leaders are also lobbying the state legislature for some form of property tax relief.

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