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Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

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Phone: 503-823-4375

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Portland releases proposal for retrofitting unreinforced masonry buildings vulnerable during an earthquake

URM Public ForumsOn Wednesday (8/17), Portland released a draft proposal to require the seismic retrofit of the city’s 1,700 public and privately-owned unreinforced masonry (URM) buildings (click here to learn more). URM buildings are typically structures built before the 1960s using brick with little to no steel reinforcement in the walls that are highly vulnerable to collapse even during a moderate earthquake.

The draft proposal was developed by the Portland URM Seismic Retrofit Project, a group sponsored by Commissioner Steve Novick that includes the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS), Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM), Portland Development Commission (PDC), and community members. Since December 2014, the group has been meeting to find ways to reduce Portland’s risk from URM buildings.

“We know Portland is in earthquake country, and that URM buildings pose a direct danger to the public when the ground starts shaking,” said Commissioner Steve Novick. “Portland City Council has a moral imperative to listen to the guidance of scientists, engineers, and emergency managers and take action now to save lives before the next quake.”

“Portland’s current seismic building code, policies, and procedures have not been effective at reducing the city’s stock of URM buildings,” said Paul Scarlett, BDS Director. “The proposed policy positions Portland to reduce the danger in the coming years.”

“Several cities on the West Coast, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, already have similar policies in place,” said Carmen Merlo, PBEM Director. “Portland can learn from the example set by these communities.”

Information about the proposal, along with a searchable URM map, is available at http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bds/urms. Portland is also hosting two forums to allow the public to ask questions and provide feedback: 

  • September 8th: 6 to 8 p.m. at the Exchange Ballroom (123 NE 3rd Ave.)
  • September 22nd: 6 to 8 p.m. at the Portland Development Commission (222 NW 5th Ave.)

Questions? Please email BDS.URMBuildings@portlandoregon.gov or call (503) 823-7300.