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Unreinforced Masonry Building Survey Underway

Unreinforced Masonry Building Survey Underway

Washington’s Emergency Management Division (EMD), along with the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) and the Downtown Everett Association, recently teamed up with local volunteers, training them to identify features of unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs). This effort helped identify and inventory dozens of at-risk buildings in Snohomish County.

“This successful event resulted in more than 120 URM buildings being recorded in Everett and is quite an accomplishment for a pilot project with non-technical field teams,” said Mark Pierepiekarz, EMD hazards and outreach coordinator. “Once survey data is reviewed by experts, it will inform risks, prioritize mitigation activities to pursue funding for improvements.”

Unreinforced masonry buildings (URM) have the most potential to experience damage or collapse during an earthquake. These are old brick buildings typically built prior to 1945, before modern building codes. Most URMs have brick walls and wood-frame floors and roofs.

The training was the start of the URM building pilot survey – an effort to start addressing URM building earthquake risks in our state. Various recent initiatives have assigned a very high priority to mitigation of seismic risks to occupants and the public from unretrofitted URM buildings that are still in service in our state. This pilot informs the next steps for a multi-agency URM workgroup, led by EMD and DAHP, in developing a proposed user portal for collecting and retrieving information on the state’s URM buildings. The goal being that, once this project is funded, communities in our state that are at-risk from concentrations of unretrofitted URM structures will have access to information that will help prioritize emergency preparedness actions, emergency response resources and access risk mitigation funding.

Earlier this year, 37 volunteers gathered in Everett for a URM building sidewalk survey event. Volunteers were given a one-hour classroom training session on how to identify eight key URM building features, use a Survey123 app to record building data on smartphones, and how to keep safe while doing the sidewalk surveys.

“Our hope is to learn from the survey in Everett, so other Washington communities can do the same survey. Retrofitting these buildings is critical for not only protecting the lives of the people inside them and on the streets below them during an earthquake, but will also help preserve the history and protect the local businesses there” said Pierepiekarz.

Following training, volunteers dispatched in teams of two to survey buildings for two to three hours. Teams encountered a range of building sizes and uses. Volunteers included FEMA, DAHP, DEA, municipal staff and others. Several of the URM buildings surveyed included some retrofits.

“This pilot survey in Everett represents an important first step in vetting procedures and serves as an approach for future inventory efforts, once those inventory efforts are funded,” said Maximillian Dixon, EMD hazards and outreach supervisor. “Other communities and entities have already expressed interest in conducting similar URM inventories.”

“Data collected will be part of the proposed state-wide URM database and portal project that will have a lasting impact on protecting the public and making our communities more earthquake resilient,” added Brian Terbush, EMD earthquake/volcano program coordinator.