July 10, 2019


In the aftermath of the 6.4 and 7.1 Magnitude earthquakes near Ridgecrest and Torna, CA, MHP Principal Ken O’Dell was among researchers observing the damage in the affected communities. As President of SEAOSC, Ken represented the Structural Engineering Community in interviews with NBC, LA Times, CBS and other news outlets to increase awareness regarding older building performance and discuss expected damage levels for modern buildings, which are designed to preserve life-safety and not specifically to limit damage.


Our modern building code is designed to preserve life-safety; but what happens when occupants exit a building after a significant quake? Can they return to their homes and workplaces?

Among the general public there may be a false sense of security that the building code which provides for life-safety performance will also preserve post-quake habitability and a property’s financial stability. While buildings designed to current code are considered unlikely to collapse, building owners and tenants should understand the difference between life-safety and functional recovery.

If you’re a California native, you likely understand the need to stock emergency supplies in a “to-go” bag. But in order to truly prepare for an earthquake, you must also navigate the aftermath. If your property is uninhabitable after a quake, how will that affect your bottom line and where you live?

Full building collapse is a rarity based on today’s structural standards, but damage may still occur that prevents tenants and residents from returning to their homes, workplaces and the businesses they frequent following an earthquake. One resident of Trona, a town neighboring the epicenter of the 4th of July weekend earthquakes, compared the damage to her home of 35 years to a tornado and told LA Times reporters that due to the damage “we don’t know if we will ever be able to move back in.”

If a temblor similar to last weekend’s Ridgecrest earthquake were to hit Los Angeles, the damage would be far more significant.

Here are a few steps property owners can take to maintain control BEFORE an earthquake happens:

  • Complete a structural assessment to understand your risk.
  • Mitigate any structural defects under your control and perform seismic retrofits on a voluntary if your building has deficiencies.
  • Ensure you are hiring a reputable design team that understands ASCE-41, the implications of CBC 2019 and other standards that will ensure better performance.

“Even after the Northridge quake led local officials to update building codes, thousands of buildings are likely to sustain major damage if a temblor approaching those in Ridgecrest hits the L.A. area. We live in a community with buildings that date from the turn of the century to modern buildings built today. Despite modern codes, new buildings are still going to experience significant damage in a 7.1 earthquake.” – Kenneth O’Dell, The Press Enterprise  

The functional recovery discussion is critical because it pushes us beyond a “Life-safe” mentality to a “Community-Safe” approach. Buildings that remain functional and in service, can still sustain damage, but the damage will be less, allowing communities to continue operating after an earthquake.


More information regarding Post EQ Response can be found via the Press Links below:

Los Angeles Times – Ridgecrest Quake

Los Angeles Times – Trona/Ridgecrest

The Press Enterprise 

NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt

Los Angeles County Press Conference