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[SEAOC] Re: [SEAOC] Re: Re: [SEAOC] Seismic Rehabilitation of Buildings using FEMA 17...

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Edwin Dean:

You did a favor for some readers of this debate with your discussion of the
nature and approach of  the 178 document.   Folks who are familiar with a
subject sometimes forget that others may need a basic orientation to join the
debate, which you provided.

You raised a question that I want to respond to.

>One critical question to ask is:  "Is it appropriate to 
>have an evaluation (screening) document, that represents a 
>lower standard than is required in a design document?"

In the real world, there won't be two standards used in retrofit programs -
the "lower" standard will be used for both evaluation and design.  Folks who
have attended or followed public hearings and the legislative process to
adopt mandatory retrofit programs likely have observed the concerns and
demands of impacted owners for fairness and a level playing field.  The owner
of a building that just barely meets 178 criteria for a "good" building gets
a pass.  The building next door initially may have been almost identical, but
over the years received different modifications and maintenance, and now
falls just below the 178 criteria.  If the second owner is not allowed to
just bring the building up to the "good" level, but has to retrofit to sigma
+ one, he is going to be very unhappy at the "unfairness" of it all.  And
people on city councils, boards of supervisors, chambers of commerce,
building owner associations, and tenant associations whose members will be
impacted by rent pass-throughs for the retrofit work, are likely to agree.
 An engineering case arguably can be made for using a "higher" standard for
both evaluation and design, but past experiences have been that it won't be
reflected in the ordinances that are finally passed.  Acceptable risk is
shaped and defined through the political process, and engineers providing
input today regrettably are often viewed as just another interest group in
the debates (" .. and this ordinance should be called the Engineers' Full
Employment Act.. !!"  quote of a politician who shall remain unnamed).   The
results may disappoint us at times, but shouldn't be surprising - there is
truth in the observation about the similarity between lawmaking and

Franklin Lew, SE
Building Official