The media has given a lot of attention to earthquake events over the last decade, and we have seen that powerful seismic activity can happen at any time and in any place around the globe. Many times, they do not even occur near a major fault line. In fact, older commercial buildings constructed before the late 1980’s are precariously ill-equipped to withstand the force of even small earthquake tremors. While most people only think about roofs and walls collapsing, today we know that buildings have many more vulnerabilities in an earthquake than just the outside structure.
Here are a few facts about commercial properties and the impact of earthquakes:
- Because building codes were previously not as strong and well-defined as they are today, properties built more than 20-25 years ago most likely need to be strengthened with a earthquake retrofit.
- Destruction and loss due to earthquakes occur most often once the earth stops moving.
- Un-reinforced masonry buildings collapse during seismic activity more often than all other construction methods combined.
- Loss that occurs through flooding caused by damaged or broken sprinkler pipes is often avoidable.
The strong twisting and turning motions that are part of an earthquake tremor actively test the strength of water pipes under pressure. Piping systems may have handled the stress reasonably well in previous earthquakes, however, the risk of them breaking and flooding even a small portion of a building’s interior should always be a significant concern. Sprinkler piping is heavy and usually positioned overhead; the biggest hazard is that the pipes will fall, causing injury to tenants and customers, not to mention significant damage to the building. Because of the risk involved, a fire sprinkler bracing and anchorage inspection should be conducted by earthquake retrofit professionals.
A thorough earthquake retrofit inspection generally includes an evaluation and verification of adequate:
- continuity ties and roof-to-wall connections on un-reinforced masonry
- steel bracing frames on concrete tilt-up walls
- roof-to-wall anchors
- wall strengthening
- shear walls
- bracing for fire sprinklers and water pipes
- bracing for hanging equipment
- protection of supply lines or storage tanks
Earthquake damage to fire sprinkler piping can be a concern not only on the inside of a building, but also on the outside and even under the building. Pipes that run vertically between stories often break, as well as the hangers that support the weight of the pipes running horizontally along ceilings. With a professional earthquake retrofit inspection, each joint and coupling should be examined to see if it has been properly anchored. The overall goal is for the sprinkler system to remain in place during seismic activity and then work as designed post-earthquake. Of course, this is no simple task when considering that during seismic events buildings move horizontally in four directions, as well as vertically up and down.
Fire sprinkler systems are lifesaving features in a building and there are specific rules and codes for spacing, location, and strength—over and above regular installed plumbing pipes. Thankfully, most fire sprinklers go unused for the majority or entire lifetime of the building. Even so, they are mandatory and commercial property owners are required to keep them in working order in case they actually do become necessary in an emergency situation. Ensuring adequate bracing and anchorage of fire sprinklers in earthquake retrofitting may include changes to the duct work, location of the pipes, and hangers in order to mitigate risk.
Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit, working with commercial property owners in the Bay area and throughout the state of California, conducts earthquake evaluations and retrofitting for all types of commercial buildings; fire sprinkler bracing and anchorage is definitely included in their inspection and retrofitting process. If you have questions about commercial earthquake retrofitting or would like to learn more about protecting your Bay Area commercial real estate from an earthquake, call Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit today!