Campus & community, Campus news

A message from Chancellor Carol Christ about seismic issues on Berkeleys campus

Chancellor Carol Christ issued the following message on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 :

To the Campus Community,

I am writing to provide an update about work underway across the University of California system, including the Berkeley campus, to assess, analyze and mitigate existing seismic hazards. Because nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and guests, UC Berkeley has, over the years, spent more than $1 billion to address our buildings’ seismic deficiencies. Remediation of those deficiencies is an ongoing process of continuous improvement driven by constant advancements in seismic understanding. This is an inherent part of living in California, and we are committed to keeping our campus as seismically safe as possible.

Our current initiative is the product of revisions to the UC Seismic Policy that were adopted in 2017 by the UC Regents in order to address potential seismic risk across all of the University of California campuses. As per that policy, independent experts were invited to join a systemwide Seismic Advisory Board that subsequently established new guidelines for the assessment of our buildings. The new criteria being used in these assessments are based on advancements in scientific understanding of seismic events, as well as on related changes in California building codes arising from advances in engineering methodologies. The updated UC policy is consistent with, and supportive of, Berkeley’s long-standing, proactive approach to seismic issues. It requires that every building with significant seismic performance deficiencies be retrofitted, replaced or vacated no later than the year 2030. While this is a complex task that will require significant financial investment, Berkeley has an established track record of doing what is necessary in the seismic realm, and that will not change.

As per the Regents’ policy, the effort to assess and rate every building on each of the 10 UC campuses was launched in 2018 and relies on a phased approach and schedule:

  • Phase 1: Completed no later than Dec. 31, 2018
  • Phase 2: Completed no later than June 30, 2019
  • Phase 3: Completed no later than June 30, 2020

While Phase 1 was a test drive, of sorts, designed to validate the assessment methodology, the recently completed Phase 2, conducted by independent engineering firms, looked at 114 of the more than 600 buildings owned or occupied by UC Berkeley. The Phase 1 and Phase 2 reviews determined that 62 of the buildings assessed are seismically deficient and should now be rated “poor,” meaning they have a seismic performance rating of “V,” and another six buildings have been given a “very poor,” or “VI,” rating. It is important to note that a building’s rating can be the result of seismic deficiency in just one portion of the structure and does not necessarily indicate that an entire building is compromised. (See here for a detailed explanation of the ratings and their meanings.)

Fortunately, none of our buildings was found to warrant a “VII” rating that is reserved for buildings where the risk to life is, as per California code, “dangerous.” The buildings on the core campus that now have a VI rating as per the Phase 2 assessment include:

  • Donner Lab Addition
  • Durant Hall
  • Evans Hall
  • Moffitt Undergraduate Library
  • Stephens Hall
  • Wellman Hall

The Phase 3 assessment of our remaining 505 buildings is now underway. Many of them are small, lightly used and situated far from the core campus — some were rated as seismically deficient in prior reviews. Those legacy ratings must now be validated as per the new criteria and methodologies. If those past assessments are confirmed in the course of Phase 3, we will have a total of at least 133 university-owned buildings, on- and off-campus, that will need to be retrofitted, replaced or vacated no later than the year 2030. See here for a full list of those buildings, on and off campus, that have been found to be seismically deficient, according to both the current and prior seismic assessments:

Even as the Phase 3 assessments proceed, we want to share the preliminary findings from Phase 2. Our commitment to transparency is unwavering, and we will, throughout this process, continue to provide you and the public at large with timely, accurate information. Copies of the completed building reports are available for your review:

Preliminary findings and next steps

We are now submitting our preliminary assessment findings to the UC Office of the President to support a coordinated, systemwide effort to holistically prioritize and address the work that will need to be done on hundreds of buildings on the 10 UC campuses. Before remediation can proceed, experts must first determine the best option — retrofit, replace or vacate — for each of the seismically deficient buildings. In addition, given that the individual campuses lack sufficient resources to act on their own, we must work with the Office of the President to develop the financial plans needed to fund the extensive work required.

In the meantime, Berkeley will begin to review available, realistic options to limit occupancy and usage of seismically deficient buildings on our campus. The campus community will be kept updated as that work progresses

Experience with seismic retrofits

The University’s proven, proactive approach to seismic safety dates back to 1975, when the UC system developed its first formal systemwide seismic safety policy and initiated efforts to assess and improve the seismic safety of its infrastructure. Since then, there have been 37 major earthquakes in California (magnitude 5.1 or above), with not a single injury or fatality on any of the UC campuses.

By the mid-1990s, 18 buildings on the Berkeley campus had been identified and were retrofitted at a cost of approximately $250 million. Then, in 1997, Berkeley launched its second, more comprehensive seismic safety program, called SAFER — Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement. SAFER provided the Berkeley campus with an up-to-date, comprehensive analysis of the structural seismic safety performance of over 250 campus buildings. We have, to date, spent more than $1 billion addressing seismic deficiencies, as identified by the SAFER program, across more than 1 million square feet of space in dozens of buildings — work that continues to this day. Here are a few examples:

  • Giannini Hall – The building is currently vacant (occupants were surged to other buildings), and a seismic retrofit project is underway with completion projected for fall 2020.
  • Woo Hon Fai Hall – Formerly the home of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the building’s retrofit will begin this month with a projected completion of mid-2021.
  • Tolman Hall – Demolition has been completed, and occupants were moved into a new replacement building, Berkeley Way West, in 2018. Planning is underway for the site that could include replacements for seismically deficient buildings.
  • 2223 Fulton Street – Rated as poor in our last seismic assessment, this building was evacuated and has been demolished.

To be clear, the university was not required by law to launch this new assessment and remediation effort. All of Berkeley’s buildings were designed and constructed in adherence to the codes in effect at the time of their construction. In fact, there are few, if any, parallel efforts in the private sector — it is unlikely that the office buildings, shopping centers and other places you visit will be subject to the sort of seismic review the UC is conducting, much less the ensuing remediation to which we are committed. Under current California law, cities and counties are not even required to have an inventory of potentially vulnerable buildings, meaning, in particular, those built before the 1976 implementation of what is considered to be California’s first modern seismic building code. However, our university is home to some of the world’s leading seismic experts, and we are an institution dedicated to following the dictates of scientific discoveries.

I understand that this message is likely to generate concern and questions. It has been but a few weeks since the first significant set of building assessments was completed, and we are now engaged in the necessary analysis and planning. Going forward, we promise to provide timely communications about relevant developments and decisions. We cannot alter the fact that a majority of the buildings across the UC system were built before 1976 and are, therefore, at the very least, potential candidates for seismic upgrades. What we can do is to spare no effort to make our campus as safe as possible, and as quickly as possible, and we are doing exactly that.


Carol T. Christ