ViewPoints by Rob Schroder: Disaster preparedness ongoing, not just after event
A few months ago, Mother Nature reminded us that we live in earthquake country. The 6.0 quake woke me up out of a sound sleep but did very little damage to my family’s home other than a few broken wine glasses, open drawers and crooked pictures on the wall.
Our neighbors to the north in Napa, American Canyon and Vallejo were not so lucky, with one death attributed to the temblor, many injuries and damaged buildings.
In Martinez, merchants lost glassware, bottled drinks and a few broken windows.
A few homes lost their chimneys and a few older homes were knocked off their foundations.
There were no reported injuries. One unreinforced masonry building looked to have sustained some cracking in its brick facade, and another lost some decorative tile.
Overall, we dodged a catastrophe that could have caused injuries, and changed the look of our quaint and historic downtown forever.
In 2009, the Martinez City Council passed an Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Retrofit ordinance. It required owners of URM buildings to brace their structures to current building codes to save lives in the event of an earthquake. The bracing would not necessary save the URM buildings from damage, but it would save precious lives. The ordinance was modeled after the one instituted in Walnut Creek after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
The ordinance provided for a stepped process starting with the identified URM building owners advising the city as to the current condition of their buildings with respect to earthquake bracing.
In 2009, 60 buildings were identified as being unreinforced masonry.
Of those, only a handful had been braced to the level required by the ordinance. The ordinance, as originally written, required those buildings not yet retrofitted to submit engineering and construction drawings to the city by Aug. 15, 2012, with construction to be completed within three years.
Because of the recession and hardship that it would cause businesses and property owners, the city did not aggressively enforce that date. In October 2013, the City Council extended the deadline by an additional two years to Aug. 15, 2014.
A major earthquake struck on Aug. 24, just nine days after the amended deadline to submit bracing plans to the city.
As of the date of the quake, 36 of the 60 identified buildings had completed the retrofitting, with one additional building 90 percent complete.
Five buildings had been issued permits to start work, two had already submitted plans, and seven more had engaged engineers to develop those plans.
A total of nine had not responded at all to the many phone and mail inquiries from the city.
Within two weeks of the quake, all but one of the property owners had contacted the city and advised they have engaged engineers to work up plans to be submitted to the city for approval.
Just recently, the owner of the final building contacted the city and advised that it would be cheaper to tear down the existing building and rebuild.
It is my hope that most, if not all, of these buildings can be retrofitted and saved. We are optimistic that bracing work on all buildings will be complete by the deadline of Aug. 15, 2015.
The quake was a reminder that another big one could be devastating for all of us.
It caused me to stop procrastinating about being ready for a disaster and prepare myself and my family for what to do immediately after a quake, and how to sustain ourselves for what could be several days or weeks following a major earthquake.
The Central United States Earthquake Consortium has a great website that outlines plans for how to prepare for an earthquake and what to do after it has hit. Rather than list all of those tips here, get on the Internet and go to http://www.cusec.org.
Your police, fire and public works departments are prepared for the next big one, and each and every resident needs to be prepared as well.
Rob Schroder is the mayor of Martinez. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.