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Can Your Home Handle the Next Major Quake?

20 year anniversary of Loma Prieta is Saturday

By Vicky Nguyen
|  Friday, Oct 16, 2009  |  Updated 8:30 AM PDT
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Soft is good for toilet paper, stuffed animals, and pillows. Not buildings.

And yet in the earthquake prone Bay Area, situated right on top of the San Andreas and Hayward faults, thousands of buildings are simply too soft.

The experts say housing in particular is vulnerable.

Structural engineers say in San Francisco alone, some 2,800 multi-family housing units are woefully behind on seismic retrofits. What does that mean for you? When the next big quake strikes, your house could crumble. 

Even if you do make it out alive, your house may not survive.

It could get red-tagged, which means it's structurally unsafe.

Then you and your family are out of a home, and along with thousands of others, you may have to rely on the government to provide shelter.

It's a cascading effect that could lead to a major slowdown in the recoverability of your city.

Soft story buildings are getting the most attention because, aside from unreinforced masonry buildings, they're most at risk. Engineers say soft story buildings are characterized by a lack of support on the bottom floor. Typical soft stories include apartment buildings that feature open space on the ground floor, usually a garage or retail.   Those were the first to fall in the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 as dozens of homes and apartments in the Marine pancaked on top of each other.

If you live in one, you can petition the building owner to get the place retrofitted. You might have better luck going to your city leaders to ask them for help.

If you're an individual homeowner, and your home was built before the 1970s, odds are it is not up to the latest building codes. In that case, contact a structural engineer or contractor that specializes in seismic upgrades. The cost ranges depending on the home, starting around $5,000.

Check with your city to see if you can be reimbursed for some or all of the cost.

Several Bay Area cities offer incentives for retrofitting your your home.

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