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Bracing the Bricks Through Collaboration and Hope

Bracing the Bricks Through Collaboration and Hope

The Washington Emergency Management Division (EMD) Hazards and Outreach Program and the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP), along with other state and local groups developed a plan to create an accurate inventory of brick buildings which are susceptible to earthquake damage in Washington. A proposed web-based portal will provide this building data and provide guidance to access funding to reduce earthquake impacts.

It is an unprecedented collaboration that brings together several seemingly disparate groups. But these groups all share an interest and passion in the same thing: saving lives and preserving the integrity of Washington’s communities when the next earthquake occurs.

“It’s about having good data first, and then making decisions that lead to bracing the bricks one building at a time,” said EMD Outreach Coordinator Mark Pierepiekarz, a structural engineer who is leading the charge.

A Passion project

“As a structural engineer working in the earthquake engineering arena for many years and investigating what happens in actual earthquakes, I have observed that brick buildings have always been the most vulnerable to damage and impacting communities and lives,” Pierepiekarz said. In Washington State, there are many vulnerable buildings and an earthquake hazard. “We have been talking about addressing this issue for 50 years and have not done enough,” Pierepiekarz said. It is his hope that it won’t take another 50 years to improve these buildings and save lives.

What is being done about it?

EMD has established a workgroup of state and local agencies keenly interested in preserving our communities. That group includes historical preservation, emergency management and others to develop a plan that results in accurate information about where these buildings are, a web-based portal to access that data and guidance to access funding to help building owners act on reducing their risk. This effort builds upon the existing database of unreinforced masonry buildings 

Collaboration and hope

It will take state and local level participation, as well as funding, to make this effort a success. Additionally, it will require uniting historical preservation folks, community advocates, main street communities, city level individuals as well as emergency managers who understand the earthquake risk to ultimately save lives and create communities that bounce back stronger.

Project milestones

In April, the workgroup will offer two opportunities to engage with members who will be using this data and acting on it:

1. On April 4, as part of the Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference (this costs a bit of money to attend), EMD and DAHP will present a workshop where emergency managers and partners can voice their needs for the proposed web-based portal that will help guide them along the path to bracing those bricks. Learn more about the workshop here: Unreinforced masonry buildings and earthquakes - What Are we doing about them?

2. On April 15, the Everett Downtown Association will host a FREE pilot building survey event to train non-technical volunteers to collect data on Everett’s brick buildings using a smartphone app. The effort will result in better data for the community about its earthquake risks, and serve as a template for other communities to follow this effort and host similar activities.

A bright future

EMD’s Hazards and Outreach Program team planted the seed that led to state and local entities working together to achieve a common goal. Pierepiekarz has hope for the future – “My hope for this project is that it will make our communities more earthquake resilient and safer…and it won’t take another 50 years to do it.”