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Climate and Environment

Yes, LA Buildings Could Collapse Like Those In Turkey When The Big One Hits. What You Should Know

An apartment building collapsed, crushing cars. Two kids look at the destruction from a fence nearby.
A soft-story apartment building that collapsed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. There are numerous soft-story buildings in Southern California that still need to be retrofitted.
(Timothy A. Clary
Getty Images )
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Videos seem to show that many of the buildings that collapsed in Turkey are likely older, low- and mid-rise concrete structures that lacked sufficient reinforcement ... characteristics shared by many buildings in California.

There Are At-Risk Buildings Here

Turkey's building codes are on par with California's, said Monica Kohler, a research professor of civil engineering at Caltech. Problems arise when buildings aren't constructed properly or when older structures built to outdated codes haven't been retrofitted, leaving them vulnerable.

"I think that what we have to be really careful about is to think: 'You know, no wonder it happened to them. It's never gonna happen to us.' It could happen to us for some of the same reasons," said Kohler.

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How To Check If Your Building Is Vulnerable

A brick building that partially collapsed with a woman walking over the rubble.
An unreinforced masonry building on Hollywood Boulevard partially collapsed during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
(Tim Clary
AFP via Getty Images)

“The buildings that collapsed (in Turkey) are most likely those that were built prior to 1980s, and some that weren’t built to code requirements,” said Ertugrul Taciroglu, chair of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA.

It's impossible to tell for certain without an assessment by an expert, but if you're in an older building that was constructed prior to the 1994 Northridge quake, it's worth finding out if retrofits are necessary. Older single-family homes often need to be braced and bolted. Unreinforced masonry buildings, non-ductile concrete, and soft-story structures have all shown vulnerability during earthquakes. The city of L.A. does have a searchable database of non-ductile concrete and soft-story buildings.

The Bottom Line

Just because your building survived prior earthquakes doesn't mean it'll make it through the next one if it's not been properly reinforced. An exceptionally strong earthquake could hit here too and expose vulnerabilities to our infrastructure.

Get Ready For the Next Big Earthquake

What do you want to know about fires, earthquakes, climate change or any science-related topics?
Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.

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