While working as a structural engineer in San Jose, California, I had the great opportunity to design many retrofits of historic (and some not-so historic) buildings. Younger me loved the site visits, crawling around in the dust and dirt to create as-built drawings, and I got tremendous satisfaction from helping to make these buildings safer and stronger. Older me would not enjoy the crawling so much.
Simpson Strong-Tie was excited to join the annual Reddit AMA event hosted by experts in the Pacific Northwest last week to bring awareness to the International ShakeOut Day happening on October 19, 2023. This worldwide occasion sees millions participating in earthquake drills at work, school or home, emphasizing earthquake safety with the “Drop, cover & hold on!” practice. Our panel consisted of scientists and preparedness experts from government agencies in Washington and Oregon. They focused on addressing inquiries related to earthquakes, tsunamis, the ShakeOut drills and general preparedness, covering both structural and nonstructural aspects, including ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning activities in the Pacific Northwest.
Structural engineers for the Rose Avenue Elementary School project in Oxnard, California, a high seismic zone, chose to switch from special moment frames requiring welded connections to the Simpson Strong-Tie Yield-Link moment connection, which features bolted connections instead of onsite welding. This case study shares the experiences of structural engineers, fabricators and other project partners utilizing this innovative solution for structural steel construction.
Simpson Strong-Tie recently released an updated model of our H1 – now the H1A. As a consulting engineer, I remember how much I disliked updating my standard details when products were discontinued. I thought it would be informative to explain the modifications and some of the reasons for them.
Structural renovation work continues on an historic, 1920s-era theater in Hollywood, California. This major renovation will improve the structural performance of the building and help ensure that theatergoers and building occupants are safe in the event of a major earthquake. We are excited to share a second update on this project that focuses on the use of fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) for strengthening the theater’s roof diaphragm. Continue Reading
With the growing danger of natural disasters, the race is on to expand access to programs that safeguard lives from the human-made danger of poorly built housing. With the common mission of building safer, stronger structures, Build Change and Simpson Strong-Tie have partnered for the Simpson Strong-Tie® Fellowship for Engineering Excellence program. This year’s fellow is Build Change Engineering & Design Services Director Tim Hart, SE. As with our previous fellows, Hart is documenting his journey with the program on the Simpson Strong-Tie Structural Engineering blog. This is his final report.
In 2017, when I was in Nepal working for Build Change, I had a conversation with one of my colleagues about the volunteer work that I had done for the organization over the years. After telling him that I had worked with seven different country programs for Build Change, he asked me which of those countries I liked the best. My first thought was that it was like asking a parent which child he or she liked the best; even if I did have a favorite, I didn’t want to say it out loud for fear of offending my colleagues and friends in all the other countries. I said this to him to deflect the conversation and we went on to discuss other topics. Truth be told, while I enjoyed the culture and hospitality of all my Build Change host countries and believe in the value of the work I’ve done for them , I have a special soft spot for two of them: Indonesia and Nepal.
In this post, we follow up on our April 17 webinar, Meeting Braced-Wall Requirements: A New Portal Frame Solution, by answering some of the interesting questions raised by attendees.
During the webinar, we discussed how the Strong-Wall site-built portal frame system (PFS) provides designers, builders and contractors in prescriptive jurisdictions with a new alternative to IRC wall-bracing methods. In case you weren’t able to join our discussion, you can watch the on-demand webinar and earn PDHs and CEUs here.
When I think about my time working with Build Change so far, the phrase that comes to mind is “Easier, never simple.”
When I started my fellowship, several limitations for seismically retrofitting homes in Colombia quickly became apparent. These included delays in approvals by the local municipality, as well as an innovative Evaluation and Retrofit Manual that was not always well understood by local officials. Staff who conducted field surveys had a long list of items to verify, many of which were not easy to identify, resulting in reduced efficiency. It was common for staff to go back and re-survey in order to complete a full analysis.
Last year, I gave a presentation at the annual National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) Summit in Orlando, Florida, titled “Becoming a Trusted Advisor: Communication and Selling Skills for Structural Engineers.” As this was a summit for the leaders of the structural engineers associations from across the country, I wasn’t sure how many people would find it valuable to spend their time learning about a very nontechnical topic. To my surprise and delight, the seminar ended up being standing-room only, and I was able to field some great questions from the audience about how they could improve their selling and communication skills. In the many conversations I had with the conference attendees after my presentation, the common theme was that engineers felt they needed more soft-skills training in order to better serve their clients. The problem, however, was finding the time to do so when faced with the daily grind of design work.
When I started my first job as a design engineer at a structural engineering consulting firm straight out of school, I was very focused on improving and expanding my technical expertise. Whenever possible, I would attend building-code seminars, design reviews and new product solution presentations, all in an effort to learn more about structural engineering. What I found as I progressed through my career, however, was that no matter how much I learned or how hardworking I was, it didn’t really matter if I couldn’t successfully convey my knowledge or ideas to the person who really mattered most: the client.
How can an engineer be most effective in explaining a proposed action or solution to a client? You have to be able to effectively sell your idea by understanding the needs of your client as well as any reasons for hesitation. The importance of effective communication and persuasion is probably intuitive to anyone who’s been on the sales side of the business, but not something that occurs naturally to data-driven folks like engineers. As a result of recent legislation in California, however, structural engineers are starting to be inundated with questions from a group of folks who have suddenly found themselves responsible for seismically upgrading their properties: apartment building owners in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Imagine for a moment that you are a building owner who has received a soft-story retrofit notice under the City of Los Angeles’ Ordinance 183893; you have zero knowledge of structural engineering or what this term “soft-story” even means. Who will be your trusted advisor to help you sort it out? The City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) has put together a helpful mandatory ordinance website that explains the programs and also offers an FAQ for building owners that lets them know the first step in the process: hire an engineer or architect licensed in the state of California to evaluate the building.
I’ve had the opportunity to be the first point of contact for a building owner after they received a mandatory notice, because it turns out some relatives own an apartment building with soft-story tuck-under parking. Panicked by the notice, they called me looking to understand why they were being forced to retrofit a building that “never had any problems in the past.” They were worried they would lose rent money due to tenants needing to relocate, worried about how to meet the requirements of the ordinance and, most importantly, worried about how much it was going to cost them. What they really wanted was a simple, straightforward answer to their questions, and I did my best to explain the necessity behind retrofitting these vulnerable buildings and give an estimated time frame and cost that I had learned from attending the first Los Angeles Retrofit Resource Fair in April 2016. With close to 18,000 buildings in the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles alone that have been classified as “soft-story,” this equates to quite a number of building owners who will have similar questions and be searching for answers.
To help provide an additional resource, Simpson Strong-Tie will be hosting a webinar for building owners in the Los Angeles area who have received a mandatory soft-story retrofit notice. Jeff Ellis and I will be covering “5 Steps to a Successful Retrofit” and helping to set a clear project path for building owners. The five steps that Simpson Strong-Tie will be recommending are:
- Understanding the Seismic Retrofit Mandate
- Partnering with Design Professionals
- Submitting Building Plans with the Right Retrofit Product Solutions
- Communicating with Your Building Tenants
- Completing Your Soft-Story Retrofit
We encourage you to invite any clients or potential clients to attend this informative webinar, which will lay the foundation for great communication between the two of you. As part of the webinar, we will be asking the building owners for their comments, questions and feedback so we can better understand what information they need to make informed decisions, and we will be sure to share these with the structural engineering community in a future post. By working together to support better communication and understanding among all stakeholders in retrofit projects, we will be well on our way to creating stronger and more resilient communities!
For additional information or articles of interest, there are several resources available:
- Register for the “5 Steps to a Successful Retrofit” webinar on April 26
- Register to attend the 2nd Los Angeles Seismic Retrofit Resource Fair on April 17 (and stop by the Simpson Strong-Tie booth!)
- Find a structural engineer through the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC)
- Resilience by Design: City of Los Angeles Lays Out A Seismic Safety Plan
- City of San Francisco Implements Soft-Story Retrofit Ordinance
- Soft-Story Retrofits Using the New Simpson Strong-Tie Retrofit Design Guide
- Visit the Simpson Strong-TieSoft-Story Retrofit Center
- The Los Angeles Times Soft-Story Map
The Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill is an annual opportunity for people in homes, schools and organizations to practice what to do during earthquakes and improve their preparedness. In a post I wrote last October about the Great ShakeOut, I reminisced about the first earthquake I had to stop, drop and cover for – the Livermore earthquake in January, 1980. This year got me thinking about how our evacuation drills work.
At Simpson Strong-Tie, we use the annual Great ShakeOut drill to practice our building evacuation procedures. Evacuation drills are simple in concept – alarms go off and you exit the building. We have volunteer safety wardens in different departments who confirm that everyone actually leaves their offices. There are always a few people who want to stay inside and finish up a blog post. Once the building is empty and we have all met up in the designated meeting area, we do a roll call and wait for the all-clear to get back to work.
Several years ago the alarms went off. While waiting for the drill to end, we were concerned to see fire fighters arrive and rush into the building. Realizing this was not a drill, there were some tense moments of waiting. The fire chief and our president eventually walked out of the building and our president was yelling for one of our engineers. Turns out the engineer (who shall remain nameless) was cooking a chicken for lunch. Yes, a whole chicken. The chicken didn’t make it – I’m not sure what the guilty engineer had for lunch afterwards. At least we received extra evacuation practice that year. We aren’t allowed to cook whole chickens in the kitchen anymore.
Simpson Strong-Tie is helping increase awareness about earthquake safety and encouraging our customers to participate in the Great ShakeOut, which takes place next Thursday on October 20. It’s the largest earthquake drill in the world. More than 43 million people around the world have already registered on the site.
On October 20, from noon to 2:00 p.m. (PST), earthquake preparedness experts from the Washington Emergency Management Division and FEMA will join scientists with the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network for a Reddit Ask Me Anything – an online Q&A. Our very own Emory Montague will be answering questions. The public is invited to ask questions here. (Just remember that this thread opens the day before the event and not sooner.)
Earthquake risk is not just a California issue. According to the USGS, structures in 42 of 50 states are at risk for seismic damage. As many of you know, we have done a considerable amount of earthquake research, and are committed to helping our customers build safer, stronger homes and buildings. We continue to conduct extensive testing at our state-of-the-art Tye Gilb lab in Stockton, California. We have also worked with the City of San Francisco to offer education and retrofit solutions to address their mandatory soft-story building retrofit ordinance and have created a section on our website to give building owners and engineers information to help them meet the requirements of the ordinance.
Last year, Tim Kaucher, our Southwestern regional Engineering Manager, wrote about the City of Los Angeles’s Seismic Safety Plan in this post. Since that time, the City of Los Angeles has put that plan into action by adopting mandatory retrofit ordinances for both soft-story buildings and non-ductile concrete buildings. Fortunately, California has not had a damaging earthquake for some time now. As a structural engineer, I find it encouraging to see government policy makers resist complacency and enact laws to promote public safety.
Participating in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill is a small thing we can all do to make ourselves more prepared for an earthquake. If your office hasn’t signed up for the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill, we encourage you to visit shakeout.org and do so now.