The Golden Gate Bridge

February 17, 2006


February 17, 2006 – With the 100th anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire just a few months away, The Structural Engineers Association of Northern California group (SEAONC), joins other professional organizations, including seismologists (SSA), emergency experts (OES) and earthquake engineers (EERI), in warning the public that a similar or stronger earthquake in the Bay Area—predicted to occur before 2032—could be devastating to Bay Area businesses and residents. The potential economic loss, they say, could be between $100 billion and $200 billion. Hundreds of local businesses could be halted, thousands of individuals left homeless and jobless, and many may perish. (For more on this prediction, visit

These predictions have prompted members of SEAONC to increase their efforts to educate business owners -- and the public at large -- on ways to better prepare for business continuity. As part of this effort they have developed a Website where individuals and business owners may read in detail about the effects of earthquakes on all kinds of buildings and infrastructure in the Bay Area and what they can do to prepare their homes and other buildings to minimize losses.

In commenting on the potential economic impact of a future major quake, Joe Sutton, past president of SEAONC and head of its ’06 Centennial Planning Committee, said there were several factors for such a negative prediction. “While most companies operate in buildings designed to meet the minimum level of life safety protection provided by our building codes, many have not taken the necessary, additional measures to ensure their facilities, equipment, research and manufacturing processes and other intellectual property will not be damaged during a major earthquake.”

Sutton explained that designing to the minimum requirements of the current building code may only provide protection against immediate structural collapse. Building damage, however, is likely to occur and may be irreparable.

“There is a feeling among businesses that if the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 did not damage a company’s facilities, they may get through the next one unscathed. This is a false sense of security,” Sutton noted. “U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists conclude that there is a 62% probability of at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake, capable of causing widespread damage, striking the San Francisco Bay region before 2032.”

Sutton added that, “Another concern is that management teams of new businesses entering the Bay Area, including biotechnology companies, have not yet experienced a major earthquake. Several of the larger players in these emerging industries are assessing earthquake-related business risks and taking action, but many of the smaller companies will get caught unprepared.”

The good news is that an effective business-continuity assessment tool, that was developed 10 years ago and refined over the past decade, is taking hold among many industries in the Bay Area, including microelectronics, banking and telecommunications. Called “Performance-Based Earthquake Engineering,” PBEE provides business owners insights into the nature and magnitude of business vulnerability and can help to identify steps that can be taken to better control downtime following a moderate to severe earthquake.

Performance-Based Earthquake Engineering concepts and tools, developed after Loma Prieta, are helping companies improve their ability to stay in business. Municipalities are also embracing these newer PBEE concepts that go beyond the current building codes to ensure that essential public services (i.e., public safety, 911 centers, emergency shelters, etc.) remain operational.

While Structural Engineers have been consistent leaders in building code development for seismic safety, they have taken a major step with PBEE and are currently working to bring these concepts to the code. In 2001, FEMA awarded a contract to a non-profit engineering group to study and make recommendation for guidelines that will specify how to design buildings to have a predictable performance for specified levels of seismic hazard.

“Unfortunately, it sometimes takes an earthquake for many businesses to put seismic mitigation at the top of their lists,” said Sutton. But SEAONC’s members “are working hard, through education, research and code development, to change this attitude so that Bay Area businesses will not be devastated by the next big quake and the negative impact on the San Francisco economy will be reduced.”
Founded in 1930, the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC) is committed to the advancement and incorporation of the state of the art in structural engineering standards and practices through applied research, continuing education, and the promotion of professional relations among Civil, Structural, and Geotechnical Engineers.

Contact: Patricia Coate 415-309-2231