Masonry Building Warning Signs


PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) – This week, Portland City Council adopted a policy requiring owners of unreinforced masonry buildings to put a sign out warning the community of their structural dangers during an earthquake.

Those signs would be 8 by 10, 50 font with a message reading, “This building is an unreinforced masonry building. Unreinforced masonry buildings may be unsafe in an event of a major earthquake.”

Jan. 1, 2019 is the deadline for public buildings to have those signs.

March 1, 2019 is the deadline for other building owners.

Nov. 1, 2020 marks the date non-profits and houses of worship would be required to install those signs.

The signs, city leaders say, are all part of a first step in a larger process to retrofit more than 1,600 unreinforced masonry buildings in Portland.

When the “big one” hits city leaders say it could be catastrophic for Portland.

“You could have a large portion of downtown cordoned off, buildings collapsed, lots of loss of life,” Senior Structural Engineer for Bureau of Development Services, Amit Kumar said.

That’s because everywhere you look in the City of Roses, you see a building that has character and charm from decades ago, that is likely an unreinforced masonry building.

It’s the age of those buildings coupled with its structural integrity that Kumar says could leave parts of the city in ruins.

“In an earthquake these buildings are very vulnerable,” Kumar said. Kumar

Kumar says that’s why the council this week adopted a policy requiring owners of these types of buildings to have a sign warning the public.

It’s all part of a years long conversation about how to make the city safer.

So what exactly is an unreinforced masonry building?

Kumar gave FOX 12 a break down using diagrams to demonstrate the weak structural system.

“The floors are not attached to these walls so what happens is in an earthquake as these walls and floors are moving they just separate. And so what happens is the floor collapses,” he said.

Kumar also took FOX 12 inside Hotel Joyce, an unreinforced masonry building in the 300 block of Southwest 11th Avenue bought by the City of Portland in 2016.

It’s now vacant and waiting to be retrofitted with seismic upgrades for affordable housing.

It has a slew of things on the list that would need fixing to make it safe.

“This material is very brittle, if it breaks it just goes. This parapet is not attached to this and so because it's sticking up above it in an earthquake these things go a lot more faster and they just go,” Kumar said showing FOX 12 the building’s structural weaknesses.

FOX 12 also got a tour of a building that’s had seismic upgrades, the Keen building at 13th Avenue and Northwest Glisan Street.

The walls and floors are attached, with extra bracing.

In the next few years those kinds of upgrades will soon be a requirement for owners of unreinforced masonry buildings.

City leaders tell FOX 12 those upgrades can costs tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And a city spokesman says there’s currently a new committee being formed to look at support options for building owners.

That committee will start up in 2019.

The council will likely consider a mandatory retrofitting policy in late 2019.

Copyright 2018 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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