List of Campus Dangers Disputed

Times Staff Writer

A 1981 State of California report used by officials to identify state structures with seismic defects is wrong in identifying several major UC San Diego buildings as threats to occupants during a major earthquake, the UCSD campus architect says.

Charles Powers, assistant vice chancellor for facilities, said UCSD administrators have written numerous letters to UC system officials complaining about the use of the report, which they say overstates seismic safety problems here.

“I don’t know why the buildings remain on the list (as major seismic threats),” Powers said in an interview. “We did our own individual analyses on each of the buildings and determined that they are not going to collapse, to be problems from a life safety standard.

“UCSD buildings do not have the problems of a UCLA or Berkeley.”


The Times last week reported conclusions from a study that showed as many as 2,000 lives might be lost on the UCLA campus as a result of buildings collapsing during a major quake.

The consultants who put together the 1981 report examined hundreds of buildings throughout the 19-campus UC system by walking the various campuses and looking at available architectural drawings. An assessment--ranging from good, fair and poor to very poor--was made for each building.

Several major UCSD structures made the “very poor” list: the Undergraduate Sciences Building, the Humanities Library at Revelle College, the gymnasium, the Science Teaching Lab, the Third College Lecture Hall, Argo and Blake Hall dormitories, the Revelle Commons East Wing and the Third College Commons.

The UCSD buildings are listed as such in the latest UC system-wide capital improvements budget for correction of seismic safety deficiencies.


But according to Powers, the 1981 report was faulty in two respects.

First, he said, the report erred by assuming a major quake in San Diego would be of the same strength as one in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Design requirements do not have to be as stringent here, he said.

Present data indicates that the maximum earthquake that could occur in the San Diego area--a quake on the average of once every 1,200 years--would be of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale, of substantially less energy than the maximum quake of 8 or more in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas. There is a new study under way by the state geologist, however, reevaluating San Diego as a result of the series of tremors recorded offshore in June.

Second, Powers said, the 1981 report was only a general look at buildings and supposed that campus engineers would follow up with specific building-by-building studies.


“We have done that, and our studies show that we are not talking about a threat to life safety,” Powers said. He defined life safety as a case in which a building might collapse or suffer such severe damage that occupants would be either killed or injured or could not escape debris without injury.

“The buildings could suffer damage, and the level of damage could vary from building to building,” Powers said. “But the concern is rather one of property damage, which I do not believe is as high a priority” for state expenditures.

Powers cited as an example the possibility that the concrete columns of UCSD’s Undergraduate Sciences Building might fracture, and its shear walls meant to absorb energy might crack, as might the elevator wells. The building was constructed 20 years ago to meet engineering codes that have since been revised as lessons have been learned about structural performance during temblors.

“While it might not be built the same way today, and might not perform as well during a quake as buildings constructed under newer codes, it still would allow people to exit properly even with major damage,” Powers said. The fact that the building would need major repairs, or even need to be torn down after an unforeseen magnitude quake in San Diego, does not justify calling it a life safety danger, he said.


Although Powers would ideally like all UCSD buildings to be useful immediately after a major quake, he said that limited state funds would be better used to improve clearly dangerous buildings at UCLA or Berkeley, or for speeding up seismic work at the UCSD Medical Center.

Powers also said that UCSD should begin a program of tying down non-structural equipment such as heavy bookcases, computers and laboratory equipment that could injure people and cause widespread damage during even a moderate earthquake.