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Florida Condo Collapse Raises Local Concerns About Damage From a Major Earthquake

Published on Thursday, July 1, 2021 | 9:33 am
Firefighters from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department searching through the rubble of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South building for survivors on June 24, 2021. [Photo: Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department]

As search and rescue teams continue sifting through the rubble of a collapsed condominium in Florida, some Pasadena residents are wondering how buildings here would withstand a major earthquake.

The Champlain Towers in Surfside, Miami collapsed last Thursday. According to the latest data, 18 bodies have been recovered, with 145 people still missing.

Officials investigating the cause of the collapse told CNN evidence points to “some failure in the lower reaches of the building.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden paid an emotional visit to the site on Thursday.

“They want to thank the heroic first responders, search-and-rescue teams and everyone who’s been working tirelessly around the clock,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.

The incident has left some wondering if California buildings would sustain similarly severe damage following a major earthquake.

“California building codes are considered one of the strictest sets of regulations in the country,” said Pasadena Planning Director David Reyes. “This includes building standards related to architecture, structure, fire, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, energy, and green building construction.”

According to Reyes, California codes are updated every three years to include the latest in seismic safety design provisions.  The city of Pasadena enforces the state building code. In addition to the requirements of the state codes, Pasadena has also adopted more stringent local structural amendments to enhance seismic safety.

“While current Florida building codes may not be as strict as California’s in all regards, since Hurricane Andrew in 1992 their codes are considered to be the most stringent among states in the southeast that experience hurricanes,” Reyes said.

According to Reyes, the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s Rating the States 2021 report, which focuses on states within the hurricane region from Texas to Maine, Florida is ranked No. 1 among the 18 states along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for building code adoption, enforcement and contractor licensing.

“Here in California, we worry a lot about earthquakes, obviously, so most of our structures are designed with that in mind,” Khalid Mosalam, a professor of structural engineering, told ABC News.

For new multi-story construction, Pasadena requires a report prepared by a licensed engineer that analyzes soils, identifies any geotechnical hazards, and makes recommendations for the design of the building’s foundation, according to Reyes.

Using these recommendations, a licensed engineer then designs the building foundation system in accordance with the building code and best engineering practices. The building is also required to be designed by a licensed engineer. The plans are then reviewed by licensed/certified city staff to verify compliance with the codes.

The city has played it safe in taking action on unsafe buildings. In May, the historic Central Library was closed after inspections revealed it was unsafe for occupancy. A placard placed on the structure states “Earthquake warning: This is an unreinforced masonry building. You may not be safe inside or near an unreinforced masonry building during an earthquake.”

Reyes said the city wants residents to know the city remains committed to doing everything possible to ensure buildings are constructed and maintained in a safe and sustainable manner.

“Everyone is deeply saddened by the news. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this tragedy,” Reyes said of the condo collapse in Florida.

“As Florida officials continue to investigate this tragedy and as information becomes available, we will continue to look to the lessons of the past to help us prepare for a better future,” Reyes said. “In times like this, the city is reminded of the vital role building safety professionals play in making sure these incidents are rare while ensuring safe and sustainable communities.”

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