is my building earthquake safe san francisco

Is my building earthquake safe San Francisco? Is San Francisco safe from earthquakes? Well, you may ask this question if you are new to this part of the world.

Renowned for its Golden Gate Bridge and thriving cultural scene, San Francisco is also notorious for its past of seismic activity.

But, what about your building in particular? Is it safe?

Pay attention to the type of your building and the material used as well as the age and the location to get an idea whether it is earthquake safe or not. 

Is San Francisco Safe from Earthquakes?

is san francisco safe from earthquakes

Not, really!

Due to its close proximity to significant fault lines, such as the San Andreas Fault, the city is susceptible to seismic activity.

San Francisco has experienced a number of seismic events, ranging from the destructive earthquake of 1906 to the notable Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

The powerful San Andreas Fault was responsible for initiating the Loma Prieta earthquake, as the immense Pacific plate shifted in a northwestern direction.

In the midst of the tremor, the epicenter shifted by a distance of approximately two meters (equivalent to six feet).

Fact: The Loma Prieta earthquake resulted in the tragic loss of 63 lives, leaving 3,757 individuals injured and causing approximately $6 billion in damages. 

Are You Safe from Earthquakes in San Francisco?

san francisco earthquake safety status

There is no doubt about the fact that San Francisco is vulnerable to getting earthquakes, but should you truly be worrying about it?

Despite the potential for earthquakes, San Francisco is a city that has taken extensive measures to be prepared for seismic events, ensuring the safety of its residents and visitors.

The urban area enforces stringent regulations on construction, requiring buildings to have the ability to withstand seismic activity. 

The Role of Seismic Resilience Retrofits

the role of seismic resilience retrofits

Seismic resilience retrofits are commonly carried out on older structures to improve their ability to withstand earthquakes.

Simply by taking these measures, it is possible to ensure the safety of residents and visitors alike.

And it is for this reason that individuals have also been investing a substantial amount of money in renovating their residences and establishments. 

The Role of the Emergency Management Department in San Francisco

san francisco's emergency management department's role

In addition to seismic resilience retrofits, the SF72, the city’s emergency management department, offers a wide range of resources and instructions for being ready for earthquakes.

For tourists looking to be prepared in case of an unexpected earthquake while visiting, these resources can provide essential guidance on what actions to take.

The Importance of Seismic Monitoring and Alerts

Technology plays a crucial role in managing earthquake risks, alongside architectural safeguards and public education.

 The USGS diligently monitors seismic activity to ensure public safety. The ShakeAlert system, occasionally utilized in California also has a role to play.

It provides residents and tourists with valuable seconds of advance notice prior to an earthquake occurrence, allowing them to take necessary precautions for their safety. 

An Important Consideration
seismic activity

Further exploration of seismic activity and the behavior of the Earth’s crust expands our comprehension of earthquakes.

This helps improve the guidelines for:

  • Constructing structures
  • Early detection systems
  • Plans for responding to disasters 
Fact: It is possible for faults to get locked and continue to accumulate stress over time until it is released and cause serious damage during an earthquake.

Is My Building Earthquake Safe San Francisco?

san francisco building's earthquake safety assessment

In order to check whether your building is earthquake safe or not, you have to pay attention to a number of factors.

Let’s talk about what you can do in this regard:

Check the List of Buildings Vulnerable to Earthquakes

One way to know if your building is earthquake safe in San Francisco is to check out the list of buildings likely to experience serious damage due to earthquakes.

A list of 3,407 concrete buildings in San Francisco that could potentially collapse in a significant earthquake has been discovered.

NBC News obtained a copy of this city government document through a public records request. 

How to Use the List

how to use the list

The city has compiled a preliminary inventory of the whereabouts of aging concrete structures.

Choose a group of structures to magnify, and pick a blue marker to view the location. 

More about the Draft

The list’s existence was previously disclosed by KPIX-TV, but its specific contents have never been made public until now.

According to a city website, the city had previously “compiled a list of concrete structures,” but this reference was subsequently removed following a request for a copy by an NBC News journalist. 

The preliminary list is subject to changes, as city workers gather more information about specific locations.

However, the authorities have cautioned that the dataset may include inaccuracies

What is Included in the List?

This unpublished draft includes various buildings, including:

  • Well-known historical landmarks
  • Affordable housing complexes

And to people’s surprise, it also includes the headquarters of Twitter.

what is included in the list

However, single-family homes, public schools, and buildings built after the year 2000 are not included in the list

An Important Thing to Note

The exact timing of the list’s finalization remains uncertain. However, all the structures included share a common characteristic: they were constructed using concrete.

What makes them more dangerous is that they were all built during a period when engineers did not possess a complete understanding of building codes.

Also, they were unaware of the necessary amount of steel required to prevent the concrete from deteriorating during seismic activity. 

The Possible Implications

the possible implications

There is a potential for numerous individuals residing or working in these structures to face increased hazards whenever they enter.

It is quite possible that a significant portion of them remain unaware of their buildings being included in this list, as the city has yet to determine the timing for dispatching official notifications.

Fact: Nonductile concrete, also known as inflexible concrete, fractures instead of flexing under pressure, which makes many buildings unsafe during earthquakes. 

Consider Your Building Types and Seismic Vulnerabilities

consider your building types and seismic vulnerabilities

A building’s susceptibility to earthquake damage depends on a number of elements, one of the most important being its construction type.

In San Francisco, you will find various types of buildings, including:

  • Unreinforced masonry buildings
  • Wood-framed structures
  • Cutting-edge high-rises

Depending on the type of your building, you can determine whether your building is truly earthquake-safe or not. 

Unreinforced Masonry Buildings

unreinforced masonry buildings

Constructions made of unreinforced masonry in San Francisco, such as brick or stone, are especially susceptible to earthquake damage.

Their lack of resilience to earthquake-induced lateral stresses is a result of their rigidity and weakness.

Seismic retrofitting is necessary for such buildings because of the risk of catastrophic collapse during earthquakes.

This will protect the building’s inhabitants and the surrounding area. 

High-Rise Buildings

San Francisco’s high-rise buildings are constructed using cutting-edge techniques, materials, and design principles, ensuring their ability to effectively endure seismic forces.

The enhanced resilience during earthquakes is due to their sturdy structural systems and inventive engineering features.

high-rise buildings

Ensuring the ability to withstand seismic events, these structures undergo thorough testing and strict compliance with stringent building codes.

Consequently, residents can experience a sense of safety within these towering edifices, even when confronted with seismic disturbances. 

Fact: Even high-rise buildings in San Francisco are not always safe, as data find a 72% chance of the city getting hit by major earthquakes by 2043.

Wood-Framed Buildings

wood-framed buildings

San Francisco’s wood-framed structures typically demonstrate excellent earthquake resilience, showcasing their ability to absorb seismic forces through their inherent flexibility.

However, older structures made of wood frames may not comply with the latest seismic safety regulations, requiring retrofitting to improve their earthquake resistance. 

Role of Engineers

role of engineers

While you can definitely evaluate your building on your own, there is nothing compared to a professional evaluation.

The role of professional structural engineers is crucial when it comes to evaluating the seismic safety of a building.

Thorough inspections are carried out by them in order to detect possible vulnerabilities and suggest suitable retrofitting measures.

Fact: If you happen to be a proprietor, it is crucial to enlist the services of a skilled structural engineer to assess the seismic durability of your property. 

Understanding The Concept of Seismic Retrofitting

understanding the concept of seismic retrofitting

If you think your building falls in the “unsafe” category, certain steps may help improve its integrity. For instance, you can begin by taking retrofitting measures.

Seismic retrofitting is the process of making changes and strengthening a building’s structure in order to endure the sideways forces produced by an earthquake.

Below are a few widely used methods for retrofitting:

Seismic Retrofitting TechniquesDescription
Add shear wallsVertical shear walls strategically disperse seismic pressures to reduce structural damage and improve lateral force resistance.
Upgrade foundationReinforcing a structure’s base avoids settlement or tilting during earthquakes, assuring stability and safety.
Bracing and reinforcementSteel braces or fiber-reinforced plastics increase the structure’s earthquake resistance.
Damping systemsDamping systems reduce earthquake movement, preserving occupants and structural integrity.


Is my building earthquake safe San Francisco? As it is close to the San Andreas fault line, San Francisco is at a high risk of witnessing earthquakes.

But, how will it hurt your building? You can learn about it by checking whether your building is listed in the high-risk zone.

Also, you can consider the type of building you have to get an idea. But, ultimately, only an engineer can help you make the right call.