Editorial Sept. 8: Earthquake preparedness a must

As one walks around the Santa Rosa Junior College campus, one can’t help taking in its history. The brick-and-mortar architecture holds the level of dignity found more often at an Ivy League school than a community college.

The same bricks giving SRJC’s buildings their charm make them vulnerable during an earthquake.

SRJC needs to prioritize retrofitting these older buildings to preserve their historical value and the protect the students and faculty who use them daily.

The Earthquake Country Alliance defines “unreinforced masonry” buildings as any with walls built out of bricks, stone or any material without an internal support structure. The six oldest buildings on campus were built before 1940, and the mortar holding those bricks together cannot survive a powerful earthquake.

SRJC has historically taken steps to comply with legislation like the Field Act, which set earthquake-resistant design standards for all of California’s public schools.

The oldest building on campus, Pioneer Hall, was completely rebuilt in the 1960s to meet these requirements. Newer buildings, including the Doyle Library and the Bertolini Center, incorporate a brick “shell” over an internal steel frame, allowing the buildings to blend with older school infrastructure and perform with modern specifications.

While the Aug. 24 quake had a 6.0-magnitude at its center near Napa, it had lost much of its destructive power by the time it reached SRJC, causing no significant damage. Such a powerful earthquake with a closer epicenter could devastate Santa Rosa — and there’s a faultline capable of delivering such a quake not a half mile from SRJC.

The Rodgers Creek Fault belongs to a broad network of faultlines in the Bay Area. In 2008, the United States Geological Survey, along with several Californian earthquake groups, produced a broadcast predicting earthquake probabilities through 2036. The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF) predicts that the Bay Area as a whole has a 63 percent chance of having one or more quakes of at least 6.7 magnitude in that time period.

Of the major faultlines, Rodgers Creek had the highest probability for these earthquakes at 31 percent. The next highest was the infamous San Andreas fault, epicenter of the 1906 San Francisco quake, at just 21 percent.

Over the summer, the SRJC Board of Trustees agreed to place Measure H on the Nov. 4 ballot, asking Sonoma County voters for a $410 million bond. The board has posted a list of several items Measure H could fund; the list includes earthquake safety.

In light of the recent quake, retrofitting the oldest buildings and maintaining the new must take precedence over anything else. Money spent on new computer labs and high-tech facilities will only turn into expensive rubble if the facility building collapses during an earthquake.

Even if Measure H doesn’t pass – an unlikely scenario, given SRJC’s respected status in the community — the board must still consider earthquake safety a top priority.