Seismic Hazards Commission suggests retrofitting critical infrastructure, expanding building codes

Earthquakes reported in Kansas and Oklahoma

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The Alaska Seismic Hazards Safety Commission suggests the state retrofit critical infrastructure and expand building code adoption and enforcement in its year-later look at the aftermath of the Nov. 30, 2018 earthquake that hit Southcentral Alaska.

Those two areas of improvement were the commission's primary takeaways after a year of listening to the stories of people and organizations affected by the earthquake, the commission's chair, Sterling Strait, wrote in an email.

The summary, available here, says that many schools and critical facilities were built before modern seismic codes were implemented and include known hazards, which can be corrected by a seismic retrofit process. Some non-structural elements failed in the earthquake as well, affecting schools and hospitals for days and weeks after the earthquake.

To solve that problem, the Commission says the state of Alaska should follow the example of other earthquake-prone regions like Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, and prioritize the identification and mitigation of at-risk infrastructure. The commission also suggested that homeowners should be encouraged to retrofit their homes to current seismic codes if they were built to codes that are out of date, or if current codes were not followed.

When it comes to the importance of code adoption and enforcement, the commission says many parts of Alaska don’t require new construction to be built to code. Or if it is required, there is often no enforcement. The commission points out that structures built to current code fared better during the earthquake.

The Chugiak-Eagle River area does not require code compliance inspections, as it’s outside of the Anchorage Building Safety Service Area. The Municipality of Anchorage tagged 40 homes for structural failure after the earthquake; 38 of those homes were in the Chugiak/Eagle River area, the commission wrote, citing numbers from FEMA.

The Commission's suggestion to improve that area was for the state to consider expanding code adoption and enforcement, and for the Municipality to expand its code enforcement to cover the entire population. It also suggested other large communities adopt similar standards.

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