UC Berkeley must drastically improve earthquake preparedness

CAMPUS ISSUES: Retrofitting campus buildings and educating the campus community is imperative in light of potential future earthquakes

Illustration of UC Berkeley with a fault line
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

When most students walk into Moffitt Library, they’re probably stressing about an upcoming problem set or midterm — not what to do if the building suddenly gives out in an earthquake.

As a result of a UC-wide building assessment mandate, 62 UC Berkeley buildings were declared “seismically deficient” — a rating of five out of seven, seven being the most “dangerous” with a 100 percent “seismic damageability” score. Six buildings, including Moffitt Library and Evans Hall, were given the second worst rating.

In other words, a good number of campus buildings are likely to be significantly impacted by an earthquake.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Hayward Fault has the potential to unleash an earthquake of magnitude seven on the Richter scale. The unfortunate thing about earthquakes is that they tend to occur without very much warning, and certainly not years in advance, which is more than enough time to retrofit a building. 

None of this is news to campus administration. It’s a bit of a pride point that most of our existing campus buildings were built before 1976, and the Hayward Fault’s existence has long been on our radar. Why has it taken so long for campus administration to ensure that our buildings (and the people in them) will be safe in an earthquake?

In 2012, UC Berkeley finished renovating and retrofitting most of California Memorial Stadium after it was deemed seismically unsafe in a 1998 inspection. Wheeler Hall, which saw renovations in 2016, still has a seismic rating of five as of the most recent report. Similarly, Moffitt received an upgrade to its top two floors two years ago, yet received a rating of six. If the campus did any seismic retrofitting to these buildings, it hasn’t been communicated — shouldn’t the campus administration have considered the stability of student-frequented buildings along with functionality and aesthetic appeal? 

Meanwhile, Evans Hall has had a history of falling apart — including random pieces of concrete falling from its facade and walls rusting off — in addition to its long-standing poor seismic rating. Given that the rooms in Evans make up a decent percentage of classrooms and offices on campus, it’s extremely disappointing that UC Berkeley is only now publicly prioritizing its retrofitting.

Some of the unsafe buildings are also home to research labs, several of which deal with hazardous chemicals and sensitive equipment. An earthquake could destroy a research lab in minutes, especially if those labs are located inside buildings with poor seismic ratings. In cases such as these — when a large earthquake could cause deadly hazards — campus administration really shouldn’t wait until buildings reach a dire seismic rating to proceed with retrofitting.

At the very least, UC Berkeley ought to emphasize earthquake preparedness. A lot of students have probably not experienced an earthquake drill in college. Although the campus has had earthquake drills in the past, they usually aren’t mandatory, and as a result people simply don’t participate. In the event that campus is rocked by an earthquake, students, faculty and staff should know where and how to take cover, especially if they are in a seismically-unsound edifice when it happens. 

Although this report is a decent effort by UC Berkeley to remain transparent, these problems shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Campus administration needs to actively ensure the safety of its buildings and the people in them.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.