Getting Ready for The Big One
The City by the Bay minds history's lessons, sort of
But as the old saying here goes, "It's not earthquakes that kill people; it's buildings." And the buildings are worrying lots of folks. An effort to fix unreinforced high-risk masonry buildings is still not complete. Critical structures like hospitals and public schools simply might not survive a quake. The Earthquake Engineering Research Institute estimates that immediately after an earthquake only 66 of the region's 484 hospital buildings could safely remain open. But Laurence Kornfield, the city's chief building inspector, worries most about those ubiquitous soft-story structures, many of them rent-controlled apartments shown to be the least likely to be retrofitted. City officials halted one study in 2002 that seemed to show that a third of the city's housing could be decimated or made uninhabitable by a repeat of the 1906 quake, leaving a quarter of a million homeless. Many of these folks, says Comerio, "are one paycheck away from homelessness already." And rebuilds wouldn't have to be under rent control.
But there are signs of hope. Kornfield is finishing that once tabled study now and hopes it will spark changes. In the meantime, he's thrown up a few skeletal house frames with garage doors in a parking garage near his office, bracketed them with $5 silver braces from a hardware store, and watched as the braces helped the frames stand up under test conditions mimicking an earthquake. "I'm about one step away from throwing these clips in a shopping cart," he says, "rolling down the street, and screwing them on thousands of garage doors myself." That's Plan B.
THAT SINKING FEELING
Large sections of the city could liquefy if there's a repeat of the 1906 quake.
AREA OF DETAIL
San Andreas fault
Port of San Francisco
South of Market
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Bridge
High risk of liquefaction in a 7.9-magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas fault
Sources: Association of Bay Area Governments, USGS