Following the catastrophic damage from earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors published a list of 33 county-owned buildings that are in need of seismic upgrades.  

Many of the buildings have been critical pieces of infrastructure for decades and are at risk of collapsing when and if the big one hits, which means thousands of people are working in structures every day that are not safe.  

The list includes buildings like the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, the Chief Medical Examiner Service, where autopsies are performed, and multiple Los Angeles County + USC Medical buildings and parking structures.  

Built before 1978, the structures are made of non-ductile concrete, meaning they were constructed with brittle concrete elements like columns, beams, walls and connections that would crumble during a big earthquake.  

“The big issue is usually that the corners of the buildings aren’t properly tied together,” said Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist. “So, when the earthquake pushes sideways, they come apart and that leads to collapse.”

The landmark effort to retrofit the 33 buildings will involve reinforcing the structures with steel bars in the concrete. Many of the facilities house officials who would be critical in guiding the public through an emergency, like an earthquake. The project is expected to cost the county hundreds of millions of dollars and will likely take 10 years.  

Dr. Jones said that if the county doesn’t act before “the big one” hits, the loss of life could be devastating. 

“We never thought that spending the money on retrofitting these buildings was worth the risk,” she said. “When we modeled what would happen in a big San Andreas, more than half the deaths from the earthquake itself are in these types of buildings. So, every one of them is a problem.”  

In 2015, the City of Los Angeles required more than 15,000 at-risk buildings to be retrofitted over the next 25 years. Santa Monica and West Hollywood have enacted similar seismic upgrades.  

Dr. Jones said she hopes other cities and jurisdictions will invest in retrofitting commercial and residential properties.  

A list of all 33 county buildings slated for a seismic retrofit can be found by following this link.