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Unreinforced Masonry Buildings

URM
Retrofiting brick buildings to meet current codes can protect public safety, preserve historical buildings, and help Seattle recover faster after an earthquake.
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What’s Happening Now?

We are considering requiring retrofits for buildings with unreinforced masonry (URM) bearing walls. URMs are the brick buildings built without steel reinforcements and ties and connections required by modern building codes. They were built throughout the city, but many can be seen in neighborhoods such as Pioneer Square, Chinatown International District, Columbia City, Capitol Hill, and Ballard. URM buildings are the most likely type to be damaged during earthquakes and retrofits will make these buildings less vulnerable to damage.

We have hired two consultants to help us finish our recommendations and outreach to the community. They have:
  • Performed a benefits cost analysis on the draft recommendations
  • Piloted an outreach campaign to find the best way to reach those affected by the new policy
We anticipate presenting our final recommendations to City Council in the summer of 2014. You can find information and documents associated with our policy development on the Project Documents page.

Project Benefits

Public safety is the primary reason for requiring retrofits of URMs. However, there are also concerns about maintaining important buildings that are the heart of the historic and cultural character of many neighborhoods. Requiring retrofits for URMs means that more of these “character buildings” may be preserved after an earthquake. It may also result in less building demolition or vacancy. Retrofits can help lessen damage to these buildings, allowing businesses to reopen in a timely manner following a smaller earthquake; a City’s resiliency is key to recovery.

The End Result

Once the policy is adopted and legislation approved, we will develop a program to require owners to retrofit their URM buildings. We currently only require seismic upgrades when an owner is doing a large remodel to a building. The upgrades typically do not bring the URMs up to current code, but they do help stabilize the buildings enough to make them less vulnerable to collapse during earthquakes.

We anticipate that the program will have tools and incentives to help building owners. We would like to encourage owners to go beyond minimum code for seismic retrofit. Renovation beyond the code requirements increases the potential for buildings to be quickly occupied after an earthquake.

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Sandy Howard
Sustainability Strategist
(206) 233-7194
sandy.howard@seattle.gov

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