Seismic retrofit

Seismic retrofitting is the modification of existing structures to make them more resistant to seismic activity, ground motion, or soil failure due to earthquakes. Other retrofit techniques are applicable to areas subject to tropical cyclones, tornadoes, and severe winds from thunderstorms. Methods to reduce hazards within households and also for general disaster preparedness are found in the related article Household seismic safety. It is important to keep in mind that there is no such thing as an earthquake-proof structure, although seismic performance can be greatly enhanced through proper initial design or subsequent modifications.

Levels of modification

Seismic retrofit is primarily applied to achieve public safety, with various levels of structure and material survivability determined by economic considerations:

*Public safety only. The goal is to protect human life, ensuring that the structure will not collapse upon its occupants or passers by, and that the structure can be safely exited. Under severe seismic conditions the structure may be a total economic write-off, requiring tear-down and replacement.

*Structure survivability. The goal is that the structure, while remaining safe for exit, may require extensive repair (but not replacement) before it is generally useful or considered safe for occupation. This is typically the lowest level of retrofit applied to bridges.

*Primary structure undamaged and the structure is undiminished in utility for its primary application. A high level of retrofit, this ensures that any required repairs are only "cosmetic" - for example, minor cracks in plaster, drywall and stucco. This is the minimum acceptable level of retrofit for hospitals.

*Structure unaffected. This level of retrofit is preferred for historic structures of high cultural significance.

The most common structures requiring extensive retrofit are bridges, road viaducts, towers, unreinforced masonry and insufficiently reinforced concrete buildings, and mid-size buildings of around ten stories high. Buildings around ten stories high will tend to have resonant periods similar to the periodic motions of the ground in an earthquake and so can shake violently enough to collapse. This size of building is also often made of insufficiently reinforced concrete or masonry. Low rise buildings will be relatively stiff and light and so have a higher resonance frequency while higher buildings will usually incorporate ductile steel frames and by their height will have lower natural frequencies.

Types of modifications

Modifications fall into several categories:

Hybrid Solution

PRESS (Precast Seismic Structural Systems) [ [ 1994 Building Publications - Status of the U.S. Precast Seismic Structural Systems (PRESSS) Program ] ] is a U.S./Japan joint program for the development of structural methods suitable for ductile reinforcement and joining of rigid concrete plate and beam structures. As these systems comprise both post tensioning and external energy dissipation they are called hybrid solutions. Fiber reinforced concrete is an essential element in these structures as they allow the creation of structural regions capable of "plastic hinging", a features that helps progressive flexible joint failure without catastrophic dismantling.

Base isolators

"Base isolation" is a collection of structural elements of a building that should substantially decouple the building's structure from the shaking ground thus protecting the building's integrity [ [ YouTube - Testing of a New Line of Seismic Base Isolators ] ] and enhancing its seismic performance. This technology, which is a kind of seismic vibration control, can be applied both to a newly designed building and to seismic upgrading of existing structures [ [ Clark Construction Group, LLC ] ] [ [ Projects ] ] . Normally, excavations are made around the building and the building is separated from the foundations. Steel or reinforced concrete beams replace the connections to the foundations, while under these, the isolating pads, or "base isolators", replace the material removed. While the "base isolation" tends to restrict transmission of the ground motion to the building, it also keeps the building positioned properly over the foundation. Careful attention to detail is required where the building interfaces with the ground, especially at entrances, stairways and ramps, to ensure sufficient relative motion of those structural elements.


Dampers absorb the energy of motion and convert it to heat, thus "damping" resonant effects in structures that are rigidly attached to the ground. In these cases, the threat of damage does not come from the initial shock itself, but rather from the periodic resonant motion of the structure that repeated ground motion induces.

losh tanks

A large tank of water may be placed on an upper floor. During a seismic event, the water in this tank will slosh back and forth, but is directed by baffles - partitions that prevent the tank itself becoming resonant; through its mass the water may change or counter the resonant period of the building. Additional kinetic energy can be converted to heat by the baffles and is dissipated through the water - any temperature rise will be insignificant.

hock absorbers

Shock absorbers, similar to those used in automotive suspensions, may be used to connect portions of a structure that are free to move relative to each other and that may collide during an earthquake. Where a rigid connection could break or impose excessive strain on the buildings, and a loose connection could be dismantled, the shock absorbers allow the relative motion to be restrained by transferring and dissipating energy. This can be especially effective if the two structures have differing fundamental frequencies of resonance, as each structure may then assist in inhibiting the motion of the other.

Tuned mass dampers

Tuned mass dampers employ movable weights on some sort of springs. These are typically employed to reduce wind sway in very tall, light buildings. Similar designs may be employed to impart earthquake resistance in eight to ten story buildings that are prone to destructive earthquake induced resonances [ ['s%201st%20page.htm Slide 2 ] ] . To increase the shielded range of forcing frequencies, the concept of Multi-Frequency Quieting Building System (MFQBS) was developed [ [ Multi-Frequency Earthquake / Wind Quieting Building System ] ] .

Active damping with fallback

Very tall buildings ("skyscrapers"), when built using modern lightweight materials, might sway uncomfortably (but not dangerously) in certain wind conditions. A solution to this problem is to include at some upper story a large mass, constrained, but free to move within a limited range, and moving on some sort of bearing system such as an air cushion or hydraulic film. Hydraulic pistons, powered by electric pumps and accumulators, are actively driven to counter the wind forces and natural resonances. These may also, if properly designed, be effective in controlling excessive motion - with or without applied power - in an earthquake. In general, though, modern steel frame high rise buildings are not as subject to dangerous motion as are medium rise (eight to ten story) buildings, as the resonant period of a tall and massive building is longer than the approximately one second shocks applied by an earthquake.


The most common form of seismic retrofit to lower buildings is adding strength to the existing structure to resist seismic forces. The strengthening may be limited to connections between existing building elements or it may involve adding primary resisting elements such as walls or frames, particularly in the lower stories.

Connections between buildings and their expansion additions

Frequently, building additions will not be strongly connected to the existing structure, but simply placed adjacent to it, with only minor continuity in flooring, siding, and roofing. As a result, the addition may have a different resonant period than the original structure, and they may easily detach from one another. The relative motion will then cause the two parts to collide, causing severe structural damage. Proper construction will tie the two building components rigidly together so that they behave as a single mass or employ dampers to expend the energy from relative motion, with appropriate allowance for this motion.

Exterior reinforcement of building

Exterior concrete columns

Historic buildings, made of unreinforced masonry, may have culturally important interior detailing or murals that should not be disturbed. In this case, the solution may be to add a number of steel, reinforced concrete, or poststressed concrete columns to the exterior. Careful attention must be paid to the connections with other members such as footings, top plates, and roof trusses.

Infill shear trusses

Shown here is an exterior shear reinforcement of a conventional reinforced concrete dormitory building. In this case, there was sufficient vertical strength in the building columns and sufficient shear strength in the lower stories that only limited shear reinforcement was required to make it earthquake resistant for this location, near the Hayward fault.

Massive exterior structure

In other circumstances, far greater reinforcement is required. In the structure shown at right — a parking garage over shops — the placement, detailing, and painting of the reinforcement becomes itself an architectural embellishment.

hear failure in lowest story

This collapse mode is known as "soft storey collapse". In many buildings the ground level is designed for different uses than the upper levels. Low rise residential structures may be built over a parking garage which have large doors on one side. Hotels may have a tall ground floors to allow for a grand entrance or ballrooms. Office buildings may have stores in the ground floor which desire continuous windows for display.

Traditional seismic design assumes that the lower stories of a building are stronger than the upper stories and where this is not the case the structure will not respond to earthquakes in the expected fashion. Using modern design methods, it is possible to take a weak story into account.

Several failures of this type in one large apartment complex caused most of the fatalities in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Typically, where this type of problem is found, the weak story is reinforced to make it stronger than the floors above by adding shear walls or moment frames. Moment frames consisting of inverted U bents are useful in preserving lower story garage access, while a lower cost solution may be to use shear walls or trusses in several locations, which partially reduce the usefulness for automobile parking but still allow the space to be used for other storage.

hear failure within floor diaphragm

Floors in wooden buildings are usually constructed upon relatively deep spans of wood, called joists, covered with a diagonal wood planking or plywood to form a subfloor upon which the finish floor surface is laid. In many structures these are all aligned in the same direction. To prevent the beams from tipping over onto their side, blocking is used at each end, and for additional stiffness, blocking or diagonal wood or metal bracing may be placed between beams at one or more points in their spans. At the outer edge it is typical to use a single depth of blocking and a perimeter beam overall.

If the blocking or nailing is inadequate, each beam can be laid flat by the shear forces applied to the building. In this position they lack most of their original strength and the structure may further collapse. As part of a retrofit the blocking may be doubled, especially at the outer edges of the building. It may be appropriate to add additional nails between the sill plate of the perimeter wall erected upon the floor diaphragm, although this will require exposing the sill plate by removing interior plaster or exterior siding. As the sill plate may be quite old and dry and substantial nails must be used, it may be necessary to pre-drill a hole for the nail in the old wood to avoid splitting. When the wall is opened for this purpose it may also be appropriate to tie vertical wall elements into the foundation using specialty connectors and bolts glued with epoxy cement into holes drilled in the foundation.

liding off foundation and cripple wall failure

Single or two story wood-frame domestic structures built on a perimeter or slab foundation are relatively safe in an earthquake, but in many structures built before 1950 the sill plate that sits between the concrete foundation and the floor diaphragm (perimeter foundation) or studwall (slab foundation) may not be sufficiently bolted in. Additionally, older attachments may have corroded to a point of weakness. A sideways shock can slide the building entirely off of the foundations or slab.

Often such buildings, especially if constructed on a moderate slope, are erected on a platform connected to a perimeter foundation through low stud-walls called "cripple wall" or "pin-up". This low wall structure itself may fail in shear or in its connections to itself at the corners, leading to the building moving diagonally and collapsing the low walls. The likelihood of failure of the pin-up can be reduced by ensuring that the corners are well reinforced in shear and that the shear panels are well connected to each other through the corner posts. This requires structural grade sheet plywood, often treated for rot resistance. This grade of plywood is made without interior unfilled knots and with more, thinner layers than common plywood. New buildings designed to resist earthquakes will typically use OSB (oriented strand board), sometimes with metal joins between panels, and with well attached stucco covering to enhance its performance. In many modern tract homes, especially those built upon expansive (clay) soil the building is constructed upon a single and relatively thick monolithic slab, kept in one piece by high tensile rods that are stressed after the slab has set. This poststressing places the concrete under compression - a condition under which it is extremely strong in bending and so will not crack under adverse soil conditions.

Multiple piers in shallow pits

Some older low-cost structures are elevated on tapered concrete pylons set into shallow pits, a method frequently used to attach outdoor decks to existing buildings. This is seen in conditions of damp soil, especially in tropical conditions, as it leaves a dry ventilated space under the house, and in far northern conditions of permafrost (frozen mud) as it keeps the building's warmth from destabilizing the ground beneath.

During an earthquake, the pylons may tip, spilling the building to the ground. This can be overcome by using deep-bored holes to contain cast-in-place reinforced pylons, which are then secured to the floor panel at the corners of the building. Another technique is to add sufficient diagonal bracing or sections of concrete shear wall between pylons.

Reinforced concrete column burst

Reinforced concrete columns typically contain large diameter vertical rebar (reinforcing bars) arranged in a ring, surrounded by lighter-gauge hoops of rebar. Upon analysis of failures due to earthquakes, it has been realized that the weakness was not in the vertical bars, but rather in inadequate strength and quantity of hoops. Once the integrity of the hoops is breached, the vertical rebar can flex outward, stressing the central column of concrete. The concrete then simply crumbles into small pieces, now unconstrained by the surrounding rebar. In new construction a greater amount of hoop-like structures is used.

One simple retrofit is to surround the column with a jacket of steel plates formed and welded into a single cylinder. The space between the jacket and the column is then filled with concrete, a process called grouting. Where soil or structure conditions require such additional modification, additional pilings may be driven near the column base and concrete pads linking the pilings to the pylon are fabricated at or below ground level. In the example shown not all columns needed to be modified to gain sufficient seismic resistance for the conditions expected. (This location is about a mile from the Hayward Fault Zone.)

Brick wall resin and glass fiber reinforcement

Brick building structures have been reinforced with coatings of glass fiber and appropriate resin (epoxy or polyester). In lower floors these may be applied over entire exposed surfaces, while in upper floors this may be confined to narrow areas around window and door openings. This application provides tensile strength that stiffens the wall against bending away from the side with the application. The efficient protection of an entire building requires extensive analysis and engineering to determine the appropriate locations to be treated.

Reinforced concrete wall burst

Concrete walls are often used at the transition between elevated road fill and overpass structures. The wall is used both to retain the soil and so enable the use of a shorter span and also to transfer the weight of the span directly downward to footings in undisturbed soil. If these walls are inadequate they may crumble under the stress of an earthquake's induced ground motion.

One form of retrofit is to drill numerous holes into the surface of the wall, and secure short L-shaped sections of rebar to the surface of each hole with epoxy adhesive. Additional vertical and horizontal rebar is then secured to the new elements, a form is erected, and an additional layer of concrete is poured. This modification may be combined with additional footings in excavated trenches and additional support ledgers and tie-backs to retain the span on the bounding walls.

Reinforced concrete post to beam connections

Examination of failed structures often reveals failure at the corners, where vertical posts join horizontal beams. These corners can be reinforced with external steel plates, which must be secured by through bolts and which may also offer an anchor point for strong rods, as shown in the image at left. The horizontal rods pass across the beam to a similar structure on the opposite side, while the vertical rods are anchored after passing through a grouted anti-burst jacket.Another method is to simply add a great amount of small attachment points, as in the wall reinforcement method described above, with additional rebar and concrete. In one retrofit every corner joint has been surrounded by a block-like jacket. These blocks serve to transfer bending forces to new added jackets on the vertical and horizontal elements. The goal is to achieve the type of strength afforded by the new construction shown at right (this is not a retrofit).


Where moist or poorly consolidated alluvial soil interfaces in a "beach like" structure against underlying firm material, seismic waves traveling through the alluvium can be amplified, just as are water waves against a sloping beach. In these special conditions, vertical accelerations up to twice the force of gravity have been measured. If a building is not secured to a well-embedded foundation it is possible for the building to be thrust from (or with) its foundations into the air, usually with severe damage upon landing. Even if it is well-founded, higher portions such as upper stories or roof structures or attached structures such as canopies and porches may become detached from the primary structure.

Good practices in modern, earthquake-resistant structures dictate that there be good vertical connections throughout every component the building, from undisturbed or engineered earth to foundation to sill plate to vertical studs to plate cap through each floor and continuing to the roof structure. Above the foundation and sill plate the connections are typically made using steel strap or sheet stampings, nailed to wood members using special hardened high-shear strength nails, and heavy angle stampings secured with through bolts, using large washers to prevent pull-through. Where inadequate bolts are provided between the sill plates and a foundation in existing construction (or are not trusted due to possible corrosion), special clamp plates may be added, each of which is secured to the foundation using expansion bolts inserted into holes drilled in an exposed face of concrete. Other members must then be secured to the sill plates with additional fittings.


One of the most difficult retrofits is that required to prevent damage due to soil failure. Soil failure can occur on a slope, a slope failure or landslide, or in a flat area due to liquefaction of water-saturated sand and/or mud. Generally, deep pilings must be driven into stable soil (typically hard mud or sand) or to underlying bedrock or the slope must be stabilized. For buildings built atop previous landslides the practicality of retrofit may be limited by economic factors, as it is not practical to stabilize a large, deep landslide. The likelihood of landslide or soil failure may also depend upon seasonal factors, as the soil may be more stable at the beginning of a wet season than at the beginning of the dry season. Such a "two season" "Mediterranean climate" is seen throughout California.

In some cases, the best that can be done is to reduce the entrance of water runoff from higher, stable elevations by capturing and bypassing through channels or pipes, and to drain water infiltrated directly and from subsurface springs by inserting horizontal perforated tubes. There are numerous locations in California where extensive developments have been built atop archaic landslides, which have not moved in historic times but which (if both water-saturated and shaken by an earthquake) have a high probability of moving "en masse", carrying entire sections of suburban development to new locations. While the most modern of house structures (well tied to monolithic concrete foundation slabs reinforced with post tensioning cables) may survive such movement largely intact, the building may be neither level nor properly located.

Utilities provided to structures

Natural gas and propane supply pipes to structures often prove especially dangerous during and after earthquakes. Should a building move from its foundation or fall due to cripple wall collapse, the ductile iron pipes transporting the gas within the structure may be broken, typically at the location of threaded joints. The gas may then still be provided to the pressure regulator from higher pressure lines and so continue to flow in substantial quantities; it may then be ignited by a nearby source such as a lit pilot light or arcing electrical connection.

There are two primary methods of automatically restraining the flow of gas after an earthquake, installed on the low pressure side of the regulator, and usually downstream of the gas meter.
*A caged metal ball may be arranged at the edge of an orifice. Upon seismic shock, the ball will roll into the orifice, sealing it to prevent gas flow. The ball may later be reset by the use of an external magnet. This device will respond only to ground motion.
*A flow-sensitive device may be used to close a valve if the flow of gas exceeds a set threshold (very much like an electrical circuit breaker). This device will operate independently of seismic motion, but will not respond to minor leaks which may be caused by an earthquake.

It appears that the most secure configuration would be to use one of each of these devices in series.

tructures to be modified

Seismic retrofit techniques will vary with the nature of the structure, soil conditions, local topography, and distance from various faults. A nearby minor fault, capable of generating only a small earthquake, may be more dangerous to a structure than a distant major fault. In some cases, structures have been built spanning faults, and an appropriate retrofit may be to attempt to keep the portions together or to remove or make a spanning portion flexible.


Bridges have several failure modes.

Expansion rockers

Many short bridge spans are statically anchored at one end and attached to rockers at the other. This rocker gives vertical and transverse support while allowing the bridge span to expand and contract with temperature changes. The change in the length of the span is accommodated over a gap in the roadway by comb-like expansion joints. During severe ground motion the rockers may jump from their tracks or be moved beyond their design limits, causing the bridge to unship from its resting point and then either become misaligned or fall completely.

Motion can be constrained by adding ductile or high-strength steel restraints that are friction-clamped to beams and designed to slide under extreme stress while still limiting the motion relative to the anchorage.

Deck rigidity

Suspension bridges may respond to earthquakes with a side-to-side motion exceeding that which was designed for wind gust response. Such motion can cause fragmentation of the road surface. Additional diagonal reenforcement may be added.

Lattice beams

Lattice beams consist of two "I"-beams connected with a criss-cross lattice of flat strap or angle stock. These can be greatly strengthened by replacing the open lattice with plate members. This is usually done in concert with the replacement of hot rivets with bolts.

Hot rivets

Many older structures were fabricated by inserting red hot rivets into pre-drilled holes; the soft rivets are then peened using an air hammer on one side and a bucking bar (an inertial mass) on the head end. As these cool slowly, they are left in an annealed (soft) condition, while the plate, having been hot rolled and quenched during manufacture, remains relatively hard. Under extreme stress the hard plates can shear the soft rivets, resulting in failure of the joint.

The solution is to burn out each rivet with an oxygen torch. The hole is then prepared to a precise diameter with a reamer. A special "locator bolt", consisting of a head, a shaft matching the reamed hole, and a threaded end is inserted and retained with a nut, then tightened with a wrench. As the bolt has been formed from an appropriate high-strength alloy and has also been heat-treated, it is not subject to either the plastic shear failure typical of hot rivets nor the brittle fracture of ordinary bolts. Any partial failure will be in the plastic flow of the metal secured by the bolt; with proper engineering any such failure should be non-catastrophic.


Unless the tunnel penetrates a fault likely to slip, the greatest danger to tunnels is a landslide blocking an entrance. Additional protection around the entrance may be applied to divert any falling material (similar as is done to divert snow avalanches) or the slope above the tunnel may be stabilized in some way. Where only small- to medium-sized rocks and boulders are expected to fall, the entire slope may be covered with wire mesh, pinned down to the slope with metal rods. This is also a common modification to highway cuts where appropriate conditions exist.

Underwater tubes

The safety of underwater tubes is highly dependent upon the soil conditions through which the tunnel was constructed, the materials and reinforcements used, and the maximum predicted earthquake expected, and other factors, some of which may remain unknown under current knowledge.

A tube of particular structural, seismic, economic, and political interest is the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trans-bay tube. This tube was constructed at the bottom of San Francisco Bay through an innovative process. Rather than pushing a shield through the soft bay mud, the tube was constructed on land in sections. Each section consisted of two inner tubular tunnels, a central access tunnel of rectangular cross section, and an outer oval shell encompassing the three inner tubes. The intervening space was filled with concrete. At the bottom of the bay a trench was excavated and a flat bed of crushed stone prepared to receive the tube sections. The sections were then floated into place and sunk, then joined with bolted connections to previously-placed sections. An overfill was then placed atop the tube to hold it down. Once completed from San Francisco to Oakland, the tracks and electrical components were installed. The predicted response of the tube during a major earthquake was likened to be as that of a string of (cooked) spaghetti in a bowl of gelatin dessert. To avoid overstressing the tube due to differential movements at each end, a sliding slip joint was included at the San Francisco terminus under the landmark Ferry Building. The engineers of the construction consortium PBTB (Parsons-Brinkerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel) used the best estimates of ground motion available at the time, now known to be insufficient given modern computational analysis methods and geotechnical knowledge. Unexpected settlement of the tube has reduced the amount of slip that can be accommodated without failure. These factors have resulted in the slip joint being designed too short to ensure survival of the tube under possible (perhaps even likely) large earthquakes in the region. To correct this deficiency the slip joint must be extended to allow for additional movement, a modification expected to be both expensive and technically and logistically difficult. Other retrofits to the BART tube include vibratory consolidation of the tube's overfill to avoid potential liquefying of the overfill, which has now been completed. (Should the overfill fail there is a danger of portions of the tube rising from the bottom, an event which could potentially cause failure of the section connections.)

Elevated roadways

Fill and overpass

Elevated roadways are typically built on sections of elevated earth fill connected with bridge-like segments, often supported with vertical columns.

If the soil fails where a bridge terminates, the bridge may become disconnected from the rest of the roadway and break away. The retrofit for this is to add additional reinforcement to any supporting wall, or to add deep caissons adjacent to the edge at each end and connect them with a supporting beam under the bridge.

Another failure occurs when the fill at each end moves (through resonant effects) in bulk, in opposite directions. If there is an insufficient founding shelf for the overpass it may then fall. Additional shelf and ductile stays may be added to attach the overpass to the footings at one or both ends. The stays, rather than being fixed to the beams may instead be clamped to them. Under moderate loading these keep the overpass centered in the gap so that it is less likely to slide off its founding shelf at one end. The ability for the fixed ends to slide, rather than break, will prevent the complete drop of the structure If it should fail to remain on the footings.


Large sections of roadway may consist entirely of viaduct, sections with no connection to the earth other than through vertical columns. When concrete columns are used, the detailing is critical. Typical failure may be in the toppling of a row of columns due either to soil connection failure or to insufficient cylindrical wrapping with rebar. Both failures were seen in the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, Japan, where an entire viaduct, centrally supported by a single row of large columns, was laid down to one side.

Such columns are reinforced by excavating to the foundation pad, driving additional pilings, and adding a new, larger pad, well connected with rebar along side of or into the column. A column with insufficient wrapping bar, which is prone to burst and then hinge at the bursting point, may be completely encased in a circular or elliptical jacket of welded steel sheetand grouted as described above.

Sometimes viaducts may fail in the connections between components. This was seen in the failure of the Cypress Freeway in Oakland, California, during the Loma Prieta earthquake. This viaduct was a two-level structure, and the upper portions of the columns were not well connected to the lower portions that supported the lower level; this caused the upper deck to collapse upon the lower deck. Weak connections such as these require additional external jacketing - either through external steel components or by a complete jacket of reinforced concrete, often using stub connections that are glued (using epoxy adhesive) into numerous drilled holes. These stubs are then connected to additional wrappings, external forms (which may be temporary or permanent) are erected, and additional concrete is poured into the space. Large connected structures similar to the Cyprus Viaduct must also be properly analyzed in their entirety using dynamic computer simulations.


For detailed information concerning retrofit of certain types common wood frame structures not exceeding two stories, see [ this web page] (Association of Bay Area Governments). For specific "permit ready" details as recommended by a public agency for simple low-rise construction [ see this PDF document] (by the City of San Leandro).

Wood frame

Wood is one of the best materials for anti-seismic construction since it is of low mass and is relatively less brittle than masonry.It is easy to work with and very cheap compared to other modern material as steel and reinforced concrete. This is only resistant if the structure is properly connected to its foundation and has adequate shear resistance, in modern construction obtained by well connected surfacing of panels with plywood or oriented strand board in combination with exterior stucco. Steel strapping and sheet forms are also used to connect elements securely.

Retrofit methods in older frame structures may consist of the following, and other methods not described here.
*The lowest plate rails of walls are bolted to a continuous foundation, or held down with rigid metal clips bolted to the foundation.
*Selected vertical elements, especially at wall junctures and window and door openings are attached securely to the sill plate.
*In two story buildings using "western" style construction (walls are progressively erected upon the lower story's upper diaphragm, unlike "eastern" "balloon framing"), the upper walls are connected to the lower walls with tension elements. In some case connections may be extended vertically to include retention of certain roof elements.
*Low "cripple walls" are made shear resistant by adding plywood at the corners and by securing corners from opening with metal strapping or fixtures.
*Vertical posts may be restrained from jumping off of their footings.

Wooden frame is efficient with masonry if properly designed. In Turkey, the traditional houses (bagdadi) are made with this technology.

In El Salvador wood and bamboo are used to build safe constructions with earth: "bahareque" is very ductile thus such structures rarely collapse.


In the western United States, much of what is seen as masonry is actually brick or stone veneer. Current construction rules dictate the amount of "tie–back" required, which consist of metal straps secured to vertical structural elements. These straps extend into mortar courses, securing the veneer to the primary structure. Older structures may not secure this sufficiently for seismic safety. A weakly secured veneer in the interior house (sometimes used to face a fireplace from floor to ceiling) can be especially dangerous to occupants. Older masonry chimneys are also dangerous if they have substantial vertical extension above the roof. These are prone to breakage at the roofline and may fall into the house in a single large piece. For retrofit, additional supports may be added or it may be better to simply remove the extension and replace it with lighter materials, with special piping replacing the flue tile and a wood structure replacing the masonry. This may be matched against existing brickwork by using very thin veneer (similar to a tile, but with the appearance of a brick).

Masonry walls that are not reinforced are especially hazardous. Such structures may be more appropriate for replacement than retrofit, but if the walls are the principal load bearing elements in structures of modest size they may be appropriately reinforced. It is especially important that floor and ceiling beams be securely attached to the walls. Additional vertical supports in the form of steel or reinforced concrete may be added.

Low rise

Medium rise

Masonry buildings of eight to ten stories will have a resonance frequency of about one cycle per second. This frequency can be close to the ground impulses imposed by an earthquake following the initial shock, and so the motion of the building can exceed the limitations of the structure. Adding additional shear walls, especially in the lower stories, can both improve the overall strength of the structure and increase the resonance frequency. For this reason, the retrofitting of taller structures with a lower natural frequency must be done with great care to avoid changing the resonance to a dangerous value.

High rise

Most high-rise buildings are built on top of drilled shafts, known as caissons that extend down into bedrock. Modern-day high-rise buildings in earthquake-prone areas are often constructed on top of massive hydraulic dampers or rollers that allow the earth to move freely underneath the building while absorbing the seismic energy before it impacts the building's structure.

ee also

*Destructive testing
*Earthquake construction
*Earthquake engineering
*Earthquake performance evaluation
*Earthquake Protector
*Household seismic safety - the securing of furnishings, appliances, and general household preparedness.
*Mitigation of seismic motion
*OpenSees - Open System for Earthquake Engineering Simulation
*San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge - An extensive retrofit of the western portion is now complete and construction of large portions of the eastern replacement span is underway.
*Seismic hazard
*Seismic performance
*Vibration control

Related Journals

"Journal of Earthquake Engineering [] "

"Earthquake Engineering & Structural Dynamics [] "

"Journal of Structural Engineering [] "

"Earthquake Spectra [] "

"International Journal for Structural Stability and Dynamics [] "

"Soil Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering [] "

External links

* [ Retrofit Solutions for New Zealand] - Retrofit Solutions for New Zealand - research group dedicated to seismic retrofit. Contacts and publications are available.
* [ ABAG Home Quake Safety Toolkit] From ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, their web site includes much valuable information and interactive analysis tools. If you know or can reasonably estimate in the worst case the expected shaking index for your area you can still use the included home safety evaluation quiz, even if you are not located within the San Francisco Bay Area. There are other sections generally applicable for any potential level of seismic activity, such as securing furnishings. "This is an especially valuable reference for any resident of an area subject to seismic activity"
*National Center for Research on Earthquake Engineering
*Extensive article including some structural retrofits and a comparison of various natural gas safety shutoffs: [ "The Homeowner's Guide to Earthquake Safety"] (BYU)
* [ Infrastructure Risk Research Project at The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada]
* [ How the City of San Leandro can help you strengthen your home ...] San Leandro, California pamphlet illustrating simple house structural improvements that the homeowner can perform.


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