20 years after quake, many older buildings are not reinforced

Damaged brick buildings in Pioneer Square are an iconic image of the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.

And it’s a reminder of what still needs to be improved, 20 years later.

“People think that was the big one, at 6.8. I call it the fender-bender earthquake,” said Eric Holdeman, a consultant and former emergency management director for King County.

Holdeman says local leaders aren’t doing enough to prepare older buildings to survive a truly big quake, and not fall down on people.

Study after study has pointed out the danger, but most older buildings are still not reinforced.

“There is no plan for moving forward, there’s been a lot of discussion,” Holdeman said.

“It’s just very expensive to go into older buildings and fix them up and some of these buildings have historic importance and it’s hard to know what to do with them,” said University of Washington civil engineering professor Marc Eberhard, who has sounded the alarm for years.

“For new construction things are definitely better, for existing, not much has been done,” he said.

The City of Seattle conducted an inventory of unreinforced masonry buildings, and has 1142 listed.

There are likely thousands more region-wide.

Officials said Friday Mayor Jenny Durkan and council member Lisa Herbold had planned to start drafting legislation to require seismic retrofits.

But that hasn’t happened because of COVID-19.

Some things have changed in 20 years.

The earthquake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct is gone.

The state replaced the vulnerable SR520 floating bridge.

Many schools in Seattle are retrofitted.

And the city got a new seawall.

Jessica Murphy led that project, which shored up the waterfront.

“Completing the seawall project was really a once in a lifetime project for me because it made such a difference in Seattle,” she said.

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