California earthquake preparedness: architectural strategies for a safer San Diego


By Paul Benton

April is

California Earthquake Preparedness Month

; and as we take time over the next few weeks to consider our state’s earthquake history, it can be hard to imagine how anything has survived to the present. The infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake did a tremendous amount of damage, due to both the collapse of buildings and the fires that followed. Just as the Chicago Fire of 1871 led to zoning and fire separation practices in that city, the San Francisco quake awoke Californians to the possibility of another major catastrophe – and forever raised the need for greater earthquake preparedness. As we go about our daily lives, we may forget about earthquakes now and then. But every so often, we get a very strong reminder from Mother Nature: and as a result, most native Californians can immediately tell the difference between a “6.5” and a “7.2”.

It is always a good idea to be aware of what will keep us safe in an earthquake; and this month, local groups throughout the state are working to promote safety education and preparedness measures to help Californians get ready for the next “big quake.” As we work to ensure greater safety for communities throughout San Diego, it is important to remember the necessity of earthquake preparedness on a daily basis. For example, a simple home project like changing a water heater or expanding a window could inadvertently remove a key structural support. Similarly, a ventilation duct might be needed in a business that has to run through a neighboring space, compromising the fire separations between the spaces.

When designing a building for earthquake forces, architects actually calculate and design walls and posts specifically to resist the lateral forces of a tremor. Most small homes built with common construction practices are really quite resistant, and with a little engineering attention these can be brought up to current standards. But it is interesting to note that current standards are evolving as well: it is now quite rare to build even a two-story house without incorporating engineering principles to evaluate the unique configuration and its ability to survive an earthquake. Fire protection comes into play as well -- even for a conversation that starts with designing for an earthquake.

Safeguarding San Diego communities with smart planning and architectural expertise

San Diego County is located quite a bit to the west of the San Andreas fault, and for years was a step lower than the areas of greatest seismicity in the state. Recent codes reflect further research of the existing faults in the area, and today’s standards are customized to the local landscape. But while this may put some minds and hearts at ease, it does not change the high level of structural integrity required of the city’s architects and builders. Thankfully, we are unlikely to witness the devastation, loss of life and extended rebuilding that affected San Francisco over a century ago; but as we live and work in more crowded areas, architects and engineers are quietly managing this risk through more careful building arrangements.


Alcorn & Benton Architects

, we perform engineering both externally and internally, and are able to integrate seismic design considerations into the project development process from day one. By researching the terrain, environment, surrounding buildings and zoning standards at each site before initiating design work, we provide the most thorough preparation and depth of knowledge from the outset. Our experience working within San Diego coastal and urban metropolitan areas has taught us how to manage the intricacies of the Southern California landscape – and to approach each project with environmental respect and sensitivity. It is this attention to detail that allows our

San Diego architecture firm

to create innovative designs and superior results time and time again. Learn more, at