Seismic weaknesses concern community, campus works to address issues

Illustration of Evans hall with a caution sign
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

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Seismic concerns have come to the forefront of many campus community members’ minds in recent months, leaving them worried about the potential effects of an earthquake after six campus buildings were found to have a severe implied risk to life.

The Donner Lab Addition, Durant Hall, Evans Hall, Moffitt Undergraduate Library, Stephens Hall and Wellman Hall were all listed with a seismic performance level rating of six, or severe, by UC Berkeley Capital Strategies. Forty-one other core campus buildings were listed with a seismic performance level rating of five, which is defined as having a serious implied risk to life.

What many mentioned as most concerning, however, was that UC Berkeley’s campus lies on a fault line — making it susceptible to more severe earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Hayward Fault runs adjacent to the eastern edge of campus, intersecting California Memorial Stadium.

According to the campus Office of Emergency Management director Alicia Johnson, the best thing campus members can do to contribute to their safety is understand what to do in an earthquake. She added that it is most important to wait until earth tremors have stopped to evacuate, following the rule “drop, cover and hold on.”

“If you are walking while the earth is moving, you’re not stable,” Johnson said at the Sept. 25 ASUC meeting. “There is nothing about that situation that is stable.”

Johnson added that an earthquake drill will be held on campus soon to help prepare students for such a disaster.

According to an email from Chancellor Carol Christ, UC Berkeley is conducting a final assessment of 505 buildings for seismic weaknesses, most of which are located off central campus. She added that this assessment will tentatively be completed by June 2020 and expects to renovate, rebuild or vacate 133 buildings by 2030.

“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,” Christ said in the campuswide email. “Remediation of those deficiencies is an ongoing process of continuous improvement driven by constant advancements in seismic understanding.”

In order to pay for these renovations, the campus is relying on state allocations, contributions from the UC Board of Regents and philanthropic donors, according to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof.

According to Lisa Alvarez-Cohen, the vice provost for academic planning, the philanthropic campaign will be kicked off in February 2020 on leap day.

“We will be making a case for donor support,” Mogulof said in an email. “It will be built on broad goals and objectives: ensuring that Berkeley has the safest buildings from a seismic perspective, that the facilities are leading edge for the 21st century, and that the work taking place in those buildings advances our world-class research and teaching.”

In 2017, the UC system revised its seismic policies to include the commission of a systemwide Seismic Advisory Board and implement a new model of determining risks, according to the new policy.

The Seismic Advisory Board is staffed by independent seismic experts, including UC Berkeley structural engineer Mason Walters, who served as the chair of the board in its first year, according to a webinar from the UC system.

According to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Varsha Sarveshwar, the problem of deteriorating buildings was exacerbated after the state of California stopped passing an annual deferred maintenance bond eligible to the UC system in 2006 due to economic depression.

In March 2020, however, voters will have the opportunity to approve the first bond eligible to the UC system in 13 years through a proposition. Sarveshwar added that members of her office and the UC Student Association, or UCSA — of which Sarveshwar serves as president — have been lobbying for the bond for over two years.

If passed, the UC system will receive $2 billion from the state, although it will have to get its plans approved by the state prior to receiving the money. According to Sarveshwar, it is currently unclear how the $2 billion will be allocated within the 10-campus UC system.

The bill has yet to be signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, although Sarveshwar says that it is likely because he helped negotiate the measure. She added that the External Affairs Vice President’s office and UCSA plan to continue their advocacy for the bill to make sure it is passed in March by voters.

“The university is the home of hundreds of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of staff … lots of lives that need to be safeguarded,” Sarveshwar said. “(Emergency preparedness) is something that you don’t think about until it happens.”

Kate Finman is the lead Student Government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.