🔥 L.A. County targets 33 buildings for seismic upgrades

A collapsed hospital

For six decades, a boxy downtown building has been the beating heart of Los Angeles County government — home to the five supervisors, half a dozen departments and hundreds of employees who filter through its halls each week.

For just as long, the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration has been vulnerable to collapse in the event of a major earthquake — one of 33 county-owned concrete buildings determined to be potentially at risk, county records show.

Many of the facilities house officials who would be critical to steering the county through an emergency. In addition to the Hall of Administration, they include the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner, where autopsies are performed, and the headquarters for the departments of public health and health services, which house some of the two departments’ top officials downtown.

The list was provided to The Times as the county embarks on a landmark effort to identify and protect its stock of so-called non-ductile concrete structures from collapse in earthquakes. Last month, the Board of Supervisors set an ambitious 10-year deadline for officials to complete seismic upgrades on them — an undertaking that experts estimate will probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Non-ductile buildings have an inadequate configuration of steel reinforcing bars, which allows concrete to explode out of columns when shaken in an earthquake, a prelude to a catastrophic collapse. This flaw, now well known, was discovered in the 1971 Sylmar quake.

The vast majority of structures on the county’s list were built during the post-World War II boom, when many concrete-frame buildings were erected with the potentially fatal flaw that can cause the same type of catastrophic collapse seen in the recent magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

Experts said it is essential that these buildings be able to withstand a future major earthquake, which would be vital to local government’s ability to function when Southern California is hit by a quake of comparable magnitude — something that last occurred more than 160 years ago.

“Autopsies! Do you think you want the coroner to be able to work after the earthquake?” said seismologist Lucy Jones, a research associate at Caltech.