Thorns of Seismic Safety: Risk Mitigation Policy

Aguirre, Benigno E.
Sousa e Silva, Delta
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Disaster Research Center
This paper's aim is to identify and discuss some societal problems that emerge in risk mitigation policy processes associated with earthquake, using the experience of California with SB 1953, the state building code. The intent is to bring attention to the embeddedness of mitigation efforts in social processes and the often unexpected and unintended effects of such efforts. The California experience with SB1953 is an excellent example of how no mitigation action is possible without formal efforts at "changing the rules" by willing policy leaders and legislators who may not be able to estimate the unwelcome impact of their well intended actions, in this case the mandated retrofitting of hospital buildings. Earthquake mitigation policies imply the involvement of diverse stakeholders, such as owners and tenants, seismic experts, government officials and planners, land speculators and developers. Each of these categories of people has specific interests. Even when they share the values of "life safety" they may react differently to the social and economic rehabilitation costs. To understand these differences in perception of various categories of people involved in mitigation, in this paper we explore the logic of building retrofitting from the perspective of hospital administrators, to show that it is an important albeit only partial determinant of the ability of hospitals to perform their services. There is considerable uncertainty as to what is the most efficacious way for hospitals to invest money to protect against earthquakes, and doubt that structural retrofitting solutions are cost effective. There is also consensus among hospital administrators and managers that the vulnerability of their hospitals is not solely a matter of seismically unsound buildings but also results in part from the specific characteristics of the hazard and their linkages to the social organizations of communities. Hospitals in the sample did non-structural seismic retrofitting of their physical plant to improve the earthquake-related safety of buildings, and complied with seismic code requirements for all new buildings, but for lack of financial resources largely ignored seismic structural retrofitting of existing buildings. Hospitals incorporate seismic retrofitting as part of their programs, but they optimize rather than maximize, doing what they can with the resources they have available. All mandated disaster mitigation efforts should involve a comprehensive and detailed assessment of the multiple effects such laws could produce, with emphasis on the institutions that would be more directly impacted by the laws and regulations, as well as remedies to the collateral damage the mitigation could create.
Earthquake-General , Mitigation , Hospitals , Architecture