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Need for Peer Review of Seismic Evaluations and Retrofit Project

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The Applied Technology Council (ATC) prepared a report (two volumes) for the
State of California, Seismic Safety Commission entitled "Seismic Evaluation
and Retrofit of Concrete Buildings", Report SSC 96-01, November 1996.  Contact
ATC at 
email: atc(--nospam--at) for information on how you can obtain a copy and its

Chapter 7, Quality Assurance Procedure, discusses the need for "Peer Review."
The purpose of the project peer review is to improve public safety and to
enhance the quality, reliability, performance of the retrofitted building. 

Section 7.2.9, Peer Review Agreement discusses the issue of liability.  This
Section 7.2.9 states: "Typically, peer review guidelines (ASCE, 1995.
"Standard for Independent Peer Review", Draft) recommend that the agreement
include an indemnity clause in recognition of the fact that the reviewer does
not have control of the design.  The intent of the peer review process is to
enhance the quality - not distribute the liability."

I would appreciate any information concerning the experience of engineers,
architects, owners, insurance companies, lending agencies, etc. have had using
peer review for the seismic evaluation and retrofit of buildings.

How much does a peer review cost?  At an hourly rate of $150 per hour - I do
not think the authors of this Report work for much less than $150 per hour -
it would seem logical that a minimum peer review effort, including a letter
report, would take at least 40 hours or $ 6,000.00

What is the professional liability of the peer reviewer if the peer reviewer
agrees with the seismic evaluation of the building and/or the anticipated
seismic performance of the seismic retrofit and  the building does not meet
this seismic performance objective, in the event of a damaging earthquake,
that the building owner, insurance company,  lending agency, etc. was lead to
believe was possible?

It is important to remember that "design" or "evaluation" earthquakes are
usually defined as an earthquake which has given probability of EXCEEDANCE in
a given number of years.  By definition, these "design" or "evaluation"
earthquakes can be exceeded.  This exceedance can be defined as the "annual
probability of  exceedance", the "mean annual frequency of exceeding a
specified ground motion parameter level" or the "mean return period."  In
other words, by defining the "design" or "evaluation" earthquakes, using
probabilistic definitions, these earthquakes are not the "maximum" earthquakes
.   These "design" or "evaluation' earthquakes have a certain probability of
being exceeded in a given number of years.

How can a peer reviewer give the owner, insurance company, lending agency,
etc. any assurance that the building will not be damaged beyond a certain
degree of damage when the "design" or "evaluation" earthquake has a
probability of exceedance? 

With the increase complexity of the building codes, federal guidelines, etc.
there will probably be an increase in the use of peer review. 

If I were advising an owner, insurance company, lending agency, etc. am not
sure I would advise the use of peer review unless the peer reviewer carried
professional liability insurance for the life of the building.

I would be very interested in any "hold-harmless" or indemnity clause wording
that one could put in a peer review letter agreement with the owner, engineer,
architect, insurance company, lending agency, etc.

Frank E. McClure   FEMCCLURE(--nospam--at)  August 7, 1998