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“The hospital is not seismically compliant”, “we need a seismic compliance plan”, and “what it this the cost of seismic compliance?” This term is bandied about so often that Seismic Compliance has become something of an abstract term, just regulatory requirements that must be met. Let’s revisit why these requirements exist in the first place.
During the Northridge earthquake of 1994, eight of 91 acute care hospitals (9 percent) in LA county were evacuated. Two suffered structural damage and six cited nonstructural damage such as water damage, loss of electrical power, and severe damage to HVAC and other equipment as the reasons for evacuation.
Fortunately, there were other hospitals in the area to accept these patients and those hurt in the quake, an option that we on the Coast wouldn’t have. In the aftermath, several hospitals were found to have structural damage and were demolished.
This led to legislation (Senate Bill 1953) that requires hospitals to be evaluated in terms of a Structural Performance Category (SPC) and Non-structural Performance Category (NPC). Our hospital is, for example, SPC2 and NPC-2 but must be upgraded to the highest level (5). This means strengthening foundations, walls and other structural items and installing pipe and equipment restraints.
So, why are we doing this? Just to meet some engineering criteria? No, we are doing this to avoid the potentially significant human costs. The risks involved if there is even a moderate earthquake are: significant or fatal injuries to patients and medical staff; evacuation of the hospital at a time when people need it most; and perhaps permanent closure and demolition of our coastal hospital.
Time is short and every day represents a risk to the health of our community. We should be looking for ways to speed up efforts to have a seismically sound hospital, especially if the financially responsible thing to do means building a new hospital. We are in what is called Extra Time in soccer. Only the referee knows how much time is left for when the game will be abruptly ended.