Mayor London Breed Issues Executive Directive to Screen Potential Vulnerable Concrete Buildings and Publish Seismic Retrofit Standards

The Executive Directive paves the way for San Francisco to develop a Concrete Building Safety Program that aims to prevent major structural damage and protect life and safety.
April 16, 2024

San Francisco, CA –Today, Mayor London Breed issued an Executive Directive instructing City Departments to develop legislation to identify concrete buildings that may be vulnerable in major earthquakes. The Directive serves to enhance San Francisco’s seismic safety by protecting life and public safety, preserving housing and critical buildings, preparing the City for expedited post-earthquake recovery, and safeguarding the local economy.  

The resulting legislation will pave the way for the City to develop a retrofit program and related services to address a subset of concrete buildings that are known to be unsafe during large quakes. 

“San Francisco is always working to prepare for its next earthquake because for us it’s not a matter of if, but when,” said Mayor London Breed. “Our efforts to increase San Francisco’s seismic resilience must work hand in hand with our work to strengthen San Francisco’s economic resilience. I want to thank the City Departments and stakeholders who have been developing standards and who are committed to doing the work ahead to keep our city safe and strong as we prepare for the next earthquake.”

Executive Directive 24-01 calls on the Office of Resilience and Capital Planning (ORCP) and the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to draft legislation that mandates screening concrete buildings for vulnerabilities that could lead to structural failure. Certain types of concrete buildings are known to be vulnerable during large earthquakes, like the one that hit Taiwan earlier this month. However, concrete buildings cannot be identified easily from the street. A screening phase will help identify which buildings are actually concrete.  

The Directive also directs the Department of Building Inspection to develop and publish seismic retrofit standards for concrete buildings in the San Francisco Existing Building Code. 

“I want to thank Mayor Breed for her leadership in convening stakeholders focused on concrete buildings and for her immediate actions to move us forward with this Executive Directive," said City Administrator Carmen Chu. "Assessing our real risk grounded in building-by-building data will help us better understand the magnitude of work needed and options for mitigating displacement and cost. Building owners who are ready to retrofit benefit from clear guidelines moving forward. I look forward to continuing our work in partnership with our stakeholders and policymakers.”  

This week, the Office of Resilience and Capital Planning released recommendations developed by a working group of technical experts and community stakeholders to provide a framework to develop a Concrete Building Safety Program. The recommendations, developed during a 12-month-long series of convenings hosted by ORCP, are available to read here.    

San Francisco has 72 percent chance of experiencing an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 or greater by 2043, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). For comparison, the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, in which 63 people died and over 12,000 people were displaced, was a 6.9 magnitude quake.  

“To ensure our City’s buildings are prepared to withstand the next big earthquake, we need to identify which ones need to be improved,” said San Francisco Department of Building Inspection Director Patrick O’Riordan. “The Mayor’s directive will enable us to understand the current condition of the City’s concrete buildings, identify which ones need to be retrofitted, and establish the safety standards those structures will need to meet in the coming years.”  

“Each proactive step we can take as a city to mitigate damage after a major earthquake helps set all of us up for a more resilient recovery,” said Mary Ellen Carroll, Executive Director of the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. “As our city takes these decisive steps to enhance seismic resilience, this directive reminds residents and businesses that we all play a vital role in minimizing the inevitable impacts of a major earthquake. We are grateful for this opportunity to identify and therefore mitigate risk to concrete buildings.” 

“We need to strengthen our downtown and our economy, ensuring that our community and our businesses are resilient to earthquakes now and into the future,” said Rodney Fong, President and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “Now is the time for the City to create a clear pathway so that owners of concrete buildings who decide to retrofit can jump on the opportunity to do so.”   

“At this critical time for our City and our economy, the Mayor is taking the right step by initiating a screening program to better understand our seismic risk,” said Janan New, Director of the San Francisco Apartment Association. At the same time, owners of concrete buildings who choose to retrofit need clarity. We need to give people options to minimize cost and disruption to tenants and to maximize safety.”   

The Executive Directive is available to read here.