Speeding Up Post-Disaster Business Building Reoccupancy
The Problem

The typical business emergency plan calls for employees to "Drop, Cover, and Hold" during an earthquake, and then to evacuate the building if it is damaged and safe to do so. At this point, employees and managers may find themselves in the situation of being unable to reoccupy their building until it is inspected and deemed safe by a city or county building inspector.

After both the 1989 Loma Prieta and the 1994 Northridge earthquakes, private building owners experienced delays in having their buildings inspected for occupancy safety while city and county building inspectors were busy inspecting collapsing structures, critical facilities, and city buildings. Some safe buildings were posted in error and others were evacuated awaiting inspection, causing building tenants business interruption.

Graphic Source - Zan Turner, City & County of San Francisco Department of Building Inspection
City Building Occupancy Resumption Programs

Some cities have an established Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP). This program permits owners of private buildings to hire qualified structural engineers to create building-specific post-quake inspection plans and allows these engineers to become automatically deputized as City/County inspectors for these buildings in the event of an earthquake.

BORP in the City and County of San Francisco - BORP was developed by a public/private partnership between the City & County of San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and local chapters of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC), and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Building owners - or tenants with the permission of owners - employ qualified engineers (having design/inspection experience with buildings of similar size and complexity) to develop building-specific post-earthquake inspection plans. DBI staff and SEAONC volunteers review structural inspector qualifications and inspection plans. Upon approval, DBI gives building owner/structural inspectors official City placards with which to post the building following an earthquake and authorizes automatic deputizing of the structural inspectors upon declaration of a local emergency. Within 8 daylight hours of an earthquake, the inspectors are to respond and the inspection program is to be implemented, reporting results to DBI within 72 hours. In 2002, San Francisco has more than 50 buildings in the Building Occupancy Resumption Program; references are available for building owners participating in the program. A completed BORP building-specific inspection program is available for review from DBI. (Source - Zan Turner, City & County of San Francisco Department of Building Inspection)

Application of BORP Concepts to Neighborhood Business Districts

Although BORP was developed to assist owners of large buildings and large corporate tenants, the concept could be applied to smaller buildings, or, more appropriately, groups of small buildings in downtown or neighborhood business districts, as well as for shopping centers. In these districts, the ability of an individual business to resume operations is dependant on the majority of businesses in an area also being able to reoccupy their buildings and resume operations. Neighborhood Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) might contract with a structural engineering company to perform an assessment of an entire business district.

Pacific Garden Mall, Santa Cruz, Loma Prieta Earthquake - Graphic Source - C.E. Meyer, U.S. Geological Survey

As a second options, BIDs could work with the city or county building departments to keep records of which buildings had been retrofitted in a district, and to what standards, so that all building owners in a district are aware of owners of buildings who still have not retrofitted, for example, their unreinforced masonry buildings.

Growth of the Program to Cities Other Than San Francisco

ABAG's Earthquake Program conducted a survey of the cities and counties of the Bay Area in the Spring of 2002 regarding various local earthquake mitigation strategies. This survey included a question related to BORP-type programs. In addition to the efforts of San Franciso, the following additional cities had established programs as of mid-2002.

City of Concord - The City's Building Department has been approached by six building owners with a BORP-like plan. The plans developed by these companies have been approved. Because some of the companies own multiple buildings, more than six buildings are currently enrolled in the program.

City of Cupertino - The City's Building Department was approached by a company with a BORP-like plan approximately two years ago. The Building Official has approved the company plan. The Building Official wants to keep the option for the City to inspect the facilities if it is able to do so after an earthquake, but realizes that City staff may be too busy. The Building Official noted that he would probably accept the company's engineers' posting.

City of Fremont - The City's Building Department started a program with the buildings of two companies. The new City Attorney has advised the Building Department that the City Council needs to approve the program. This has not yet occurred, so the program is now on hold. Meanwhile, another company has approached the City for plan approval.

City of Mountain View - The City's Building Department has a program with building owners, including many high-tech companies with large server farms. The program allows owners to hire engineers to develop building-specific post-earthquake inspection plans. Engineers then contact the City and send a draft of their plans to the Building Official for review. This review concentrates on the proposed interface with the City. After the plan is finalized the company sends a copy of it to the Building Official and he puts a copy of the plan in the City's Emergency Operations Center (EOC). After an earthquake, the engineers will call the Building Official with their reports and he will tell them whether or not they can occupy the buildings. He will also send a City inspector to post the building.

City of Palo Alto - The City's Building Department has six buildings in a BORP program. The BORP committee reviewed the inspection plans and sent letters to the City. The City also has letter agreements with a small number of other building owners who have contracted with engineers for post-earthquake inspections. The engineers will evaluate the buildings and report their findings to the City. They City inspectors will then post the buildings.

City of San Jose - The City's Building Department has no formal program at this time. However, the City has agreed to allow building owners to contract with designers for post-earthquake inspections and send the information to the City for its files. After an earthquake, the engineers are to call San Jose to let the City know which buildings they are going to inspect. After the inspection, they are to report their findings to the City, after which the City sends its own inspectors to post the buildings. Approximately 4-5 buildings have current agreements. The Building Official is interested in expanding the program to be more like that of San Francisco.

City of Santa Clara - The City's Building Department has no set policy, but a company can provide the City with an engineer's qualifications for review. If accepted, the engineer can inspect the buildings and recommend posting. However, the private engineer cannot affix the official placards. Two major companies have submitted plans.

Source - City and County Mitigation of Survey of Earthquake Hazards and Risks - Results from a Questionnaire Sent to Bay Area Cities and Counties (Perkins, 2002).
Costs of the Program to Owners or Tenants

According to data from the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, "costs to building owners to employ engineers to develop and maintain BORP programs vary widely - depending upon the size and complexity of the building, the familiarity of the engineer with the building, availability of construction and remodeling drawings, and the degree of detail requested by the building owner. BORP program costs for a 30-story building have ranged between $2,300 for a plan meeting minimum requirements and $60,000 for a plan including a complete engineering evaluation and retrofit recommendations. San Francisco DBI charges no fees for review of submittal, but a minimal fee could be assessed to cover personnel costs. Maintenance fees are agreed between building owners and engineers to include costs of annual renewal, inspector training, and periodic exercises."
(See the program description by EERI.)

Other Resources:
Northern California Chapter of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute - BORP description
San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection - references are available for building owners participating in the program

ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, is the regional planning and services agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.

This page was last updated 4/1/04 by jbp.