Shake Alert Comes Just Days After National Earthquake Drill

Industry News,

Are you and your apartment building prepared for The “Big One?”

This article is contributed by Ali Sahabi, Optimum Seismic, Inc.

Were you among the 3.1 million people to get a “Shake Alert” seconds before a 5.1 magnitude earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay area? Today’s telecommunications services travel faster than seismic waves, so when an alert gets triggered – people get an early warning, based on how close they are to the epicenter of the event.

These early warnings give people time to take cover, steer clear of large buildings or get off a ladder before falling. The warnings also help public utilities by providing valuable time to modify distribution systems to head off problems before they happen. Following the October 25, 2022, morning alert, Bay Area Rapid Transit received the warning and stopped all trains before the shaking started – waiting five minutes after it was all over to allow time for post-quake inspections.

Los Angeles was one of the first cities to adopt a citywide earthquake early warning alert, called ShakeAlertLA – an app that sent emergency warnings to subscribers just moments before an earthquake of 4.5 magnitude or greater.  Launched in 2018, it was later replaced by the statewide alert system, MyShake. To sign up, download the MyShake app on your wireless phone. Partners in the state program include the United States Geological Survey, California Office of Emergency Services, Cal-Tech and the City of Los Angeles. Wireless alerts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are automatic, with no signups required. The early warning on October 25th was praised by subscribers on social media, with one Twitter user posting, “Impressed with Shake Alert, I received a 5-7 second warning before shaking was felt here in Santa Cruz County 2 miles east of Scotts Valley. Just enough time to duck/cover and brace myself. That much warning could save lives in a major EQ.”


Shake Alert Comes Days After National Safety Drill

At least one Shake Alert notice went to someone who had just downloaded the app a few days before, as part of the Great ShakeOut, a national safety drill designed to heighten awareness of the many ways to prepare for a major earthquake. Millions of people from every state, and many countries participate in the annual ShakeOut observance, practicing the “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” approach to protecting yourself from injury during a major quake. It's important to know what to do when an earthquake happens, and to be sure you have emergency supplies available in case of disaster.  These early warnings have the potential to save a lot of lives. But once-a-year observances can sometimes distract from larger, more pressing issues.

The Big One is coming, and it’s going to be like nothing any of us have ever experienced before. Experts say tens of thousands of our buildings are at extreme risk of serious damage or collapse when it happens. A recent study by CoreLogic estimates that a major quake along the San Andreas Fault could cause $289 billion in destruction, including 3.5 million homes damaged. What’s not calculated in that figure is the residual economic loss from broken infrastructure, shuttered businesses and public services, widespread homelessness, and general chaos. The 1994 Northridge quake caused $67 billion in widespread damage – ranking among the nation’s top disasters of all time – yet the 6.7 magnitude of that temblor was relatively mild compared with what could be. Seismologists agree that a major quake of 7.5 magnitude or more is overdue to shake California to its core. It’s just a matter of when.

If millions participated in this year’s ShakeOut – packing emergency kits for our children’s schools, the trunks of our cars, and practicing the duck-and-cover technique at work – how many of us are going to take the extra step in the months ahead to think more broadly about the threats we are facing? Remember that earthquake retrofits for buildings are extremely cost effective.  The Los Angeles Times recently reported that every dollar spent on an earthquake retrofit can prevent $32 in losses during an earthquake.

Is your apartment building going to still be inhabitable after that quake? How many of our tilt-up warehouses and skyrises be red-tagged? Will you or a loved one be among the million people left homeless? Nationwide, the average age of a commercial building is about 50 years, and mixed-use development is about 75 years old on average, according to SMR Research Corporation. These structures, constructed in the 1940s to 1970s, are vulnerable to damage in a major earthquake.

If you own an older apartment building, here’s what you should consider:

1. Evaluate Your Risks:

How vulnerable is your building to damage from an earthquake? The age and type of structure is one factor, along with the type soil beneath it. Every structure is unique and risks specific to your situation can be best determined with an engineering evaluation.

2. Assess Your Liabilities:

Tenants in a building have significant liabilities, even if a structure is in compliance with local ordinances. Jury awards for building owner’s negligence in earthquake related deaths reached $1-million per person years ago.

3. Set=Up a Business Continuation Plan:

If your building is at risk and is damaged, would you be able to keep up with payments even if the damage resulted in significant loss of income?

4. Get an Expert Building Evaluation:

Use an experienced structural engineering firm to protect your interests by determining your specific risks and retrofit costs.

6. Look Into Available Financial Incentives:

Apart from loan programs and fee reductions, Los Angeles allows apartment owners to recoup up to 50% of the costs of a retrofit through rent increases. Long-term, this has the potential of doubling a retrofit project’s return on investment (ROI), making it a very wise business choice.

Ali Sahabi, a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC), is an expert in seismic resilience and sustainability. He is a Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Optimum Seismic, Inc., which has completed more than 3,500 seismic retrofit and renovation projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.

Optimum Seismic, Inc., has completed more than 3,500 seismic retrofitting and renovation projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California. They are the most often referred seismic retrofitting and renovation contractor by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. In addition to retrofitting work, Optimum Seismic can inspect your balconies and other elevated exterior elements all in compliance with California’s Senate Bill 721.  For more information visit