UC Berkeley's New Program for Seismic Safety

by Alexis T. Bell, Dean

For most of us, Berkeley represents a wealth of cultural opportunities and unparalleled intellectual vibrancy, balanced by the exquisite natural beauty of the Bay Area. Unfortunately, our natural surroundings also include the Hayward Fault, which runs under the eastern edge of the campus.

Shortly before we went to press, Chancellor Berdahl announced a wide-ranging program to intensify the campus's long-standing efforts to improve the seismic safety of the Berkeley campus. His ten-step Seismic Action plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal (SAFER) calls for an immediate high-level administrative restructuring, as well as a coordinated planning and development effort to guide extensive retrofitting and new construction. In addition, it recognizes the need to secure upward of $700 million from federal, state, and private sources to do the corrective work.

Reaffirming the university's primary responsibility to protect its students, staff, and faculty, Berdahl pointed out that the campus has spent more than $250 million in seismic improvements since the 1980s. He also noted the importance to the national research enterprise as well as the state’s economy of keeping the University functioning should a major quake strike. The SAFER plan, however, is a response to new information about seismicity and the behavior of buildings following such recent major quakes as Loma Prieta, Kobe, and Northridge. It is also a response to a newly completed review by three structural engineering firms of the seismic safety of all the campus's buildings.


Vice Provost Nicholas Jewell addresses a College "town meeting" on seismic safety.

The engineering firms concluded that 73 percent of the usable space on the central campus was rated fair or good, but that 27 percent was rated poor or very poor. "We are no less safe today than we were yesterday," the Chancellor emphasized, "but our understanding of the magnitude of the problem has changed." The new information will allow the campus to direct its efforts and priorities most effectively.

The College of Chemistry's own buildings are ranked from good to very poor, based on their projected performance during a severe quake on the Hayward fault.

Paralleling the Chancellor's efforts, the College is undertaking its own program to maximize safety in the event of a seismic disturbance. I have appointed a team consisting of our College Environment, Health and Safety Officer, our College Engineer, our Building Manager, and the Assistant Dean to intensify our ongoing programs of education, inspection, and enforcement of safety regulations. We will also be working closely with campus officers to assess the structural problems in our buildings and to plan for necessary improvements, to be implemented as soon as funding becomes available.

I want to take this opportunity to assure everyone that we are sensitive to your concerns and that the College, working together with the Chancellor's Office, will do everything in its power to assure the swift remediation of potential dangers. It is important that you—our alumni, friends, students, faculty, and staff—be kept informed. Toward that end, we will be posting updates on the College's web page (www.cchem.berkeley.edu). I also invite you to read the Chancellor's statement and learn more about the SAFER plan on the University's web site: www.berkeley.edu.

-Alexis T. Bell