Collapses like the recent tragedy of the Champlain Towers South have put a spotlight on structural integrity and vulnerabilities, such as soft-story buildings. A soft-story building has a ground floor that’s structurally weaker due to parking or retail space. This causes the soft-story building to not be able to carry the load of any stories above it during an earthquake or other natural disaster. These types of buildings are very common across California and specifically the LA area.
The Collapse of the Champlain Towers South
Surfside, like LA, was a hotspot for luxurious living. Surfside is filled with lavish restaurants, wonderful shops, and high-end hotels. This place was built for tourists who want a luxurious experience. Lastly, multi-story condos separated the beachfront community from the beaches of the Atlantic coast. This was where the Champlain Towers were just standing a few weeks ago.
On June 24th of 2021 tragedy struck. A section of the South wing of the Champlain Towers suddenly collapsed. A few seconds later the rest of the South Tower fell. The abrupt devastation brought horrific trauma to the city of luxury and was a wake-up call to the United States.
Collapses like this are rare in the United States, but no nation is immune. Nations can prevent collapses only through preparation and proper earthquake proofing. Old and aging buildings like the Champlain Towers require special attention and proper retrofitting as time makes them more vulnerable to collapses.
Possible Causes of the Champlain Towers South Collapse
Investigations are underway to find the cause of the collapse. Although a combination of these issues may have contributed to the collapse:
- Construction & Engineering Defects
- Degradation of the concrete in the underground parking garage
- Structural damage to the pool deck due to failed waterproofing
- Decades of water damage due to hurricanes, rain, & daily saltwater spray
The tragedy has shown us that there are vulnerabilities of older buildings to natural conditions as simple as water damage over time. It turned out that there were many complaints of water in the garage and even an inspection warned of structural damage to the concrete.
There is clearly a need for more rigorous government oversight to address the safety measures of older buildings in various regions. That is especially true for those that will get hit the most from climate change. The coasts.
Regional scientists have before warned of building onto the shifting sands of a barrier island, especially with rising sea levels. 34% of Miami Beach is now just sand dunes. The latest report by University of Miami researchers confirms that as seas rise, there is a risk for buildings to collapse if they are located on such an unstable foundation made up of shifting sands.
This is because of the rising water table. The water table is an underground zone where floodwater can be soaked in and not stay on the surface. However, across southern Florida, the water table has risen by about 20 inches over the last century and continues to rise at a rate of one inch per year! That means a higher risk of floods not just doing damage to communities, but weakening and collapsing entire buildings.
How to Prevent Future Collapses of Soft-Story Buildings in LA
Retrofitting is vital in preventing collapses because it strengthens soft-story structures by adding a new structural wall and a core to the ground floor. It leaves soft-story buildings structurally sound in even the strongest winds and earthquakes. The west coast isn’t immune from soft-story tragedies like that of the Champlain Tower South. Los Angeles has many soft-story buildings that are vulnerable to collapse during a natural disaster.
The owners of soft-story buildings are often unaware that their homes are vulnerable to collapse unless they are properly retrofitted. Although newer structures are usually subject to building codes enforced by safety inspections, older buildings remain a threat as there is little protection once they have been occupied.
It is necessary to retrofit soft-story buildings if the owner wants their tenants and property to survive a major earthquake from collapsing. Besides protecting the building’s occupants from injury or death, retrofitting also protects other properties and structures from being damaged from collapses. Collapses can bring down other nearby buildings, so hope that your neighbor has retrofitted their property.
California is a quake state and has learned from its past. Many Californian cities have a retrofit law requiring older, vulnerable structures to be fortified against earthquakes. Los Angeles and Los Angeles County are some of the areas required.
The soft-story building ordinance was enacted to protect the lives of L.A.’s citizens and future generations but also to preserve the city’s functionality after a potential “Big One” earthquake. Retrofitting makes the community safer. It may be easy for building owners to retrofit their soft-story buildings, as the new law has received more positive feedback than anyone had anticipated.
An active voice of earthquake safety, Adrin Nazarian pointed out that in 1994 the Northridge earthquake caused displacement and major devastation even though back then the buildings were new. Those same buildings still exist and are now older. He said that the current housing crisis in LA makes the potential displacement from an earthquake even worse. Stressing that incentives to prepare for disaster must be done to protect families and individuals who are living in vulnerable buildings.
Retrofits Protect the Community
No one can truly exist in isolation and not have an impact on others. Likewise, nothing in a community can exist without having some impact on something or someone else. We all depend on each other to promote a strong and healthy community. How others in the community are doing financially contribute to the success of small and local businesses. We are constantly exchanging goods and services with one another.
For every $500 invested into soft-story retrofitting construction, there’s an estimated $10,000 worth of savings by preventing collapse and reducing property damage. Soft-story retrofitting is an investment that not only saves the building from premature dilapidation, it also protects the people who live inside and those around it from injury or worse.
Just like any other building, soft-story buildings are full of life. These buildings aren’t just concrete and wood, but flesh and blood. Every single building has hundreds and some even thousands of individuals and households. They are not just tenants.
They are employees, essential workers like nurses, doctors, cashiers, and stockers. These employees are also fathers and mothers who buy from small and local businesses. They are daughters and sons who go to school seeking to make something of themselves. Retrofitting is critical in ensuring the safety of these families and individuals. Soft-story buildings should not endanger the lives of so many people.
Los Angeles and California as a whole should evaluate the risks and potential devastation. They will need to invest time, money, and jobs into retrofitting every single soft-story building. It will save lives and reduce the costs of future disasters. Future generations will be grateful and live and sleep in peace.
For more information on soft-story retrofitting, you can get a free consultation from Retrofitting 360. Visit: https://www.retrofitting360.com/ or call 1-844-730-0900.
Help Bring Relief Through Fundraising
A relief fund for the victims of this tragedy has been established on GoFundMe. You can donate through one of the links below: