SDCI moves closer to mandatory URM ordinance for historic brick buildings

The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has completed its draft Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Technical Standard and will be sharing details about the document with members of the public at two webinars this month. SDCI says the draft technical standard is the first step in establishing minimum seismic standards for the earthquake retrofit of Seattle’s 1,100 vintage brick buildings. It is also an important step toward a mandatory ordinance.

The standard was drafted following the passing of Joint Resolution 32033 in 2021, and was written after several years of collaboration with seismologists, geologists, and geotechnical and structural engineers. Resolution 32033 declared the intent of the City Council and the mayor to establish a mandatory retrofit program and directed SDCI to develop a retrofit standard.

The draft technical standard provides two pathways for a building owner to retrofit their building: the “comprehensive” and the “alternate” methods.

The comprehensive method improves the life safety of the building and brings the structure into compliance with seismic retrofit performance standards consistent with the existing building code.

The alternate method provides a minimally acceptable level of safety from collapse by requiring the installation of wall anchors, wall bracing, and parapet bracing. A building must meet certain criteria to qualify for this method.

SDCI will hold two webinars explaining the draft URM Technical Standard and how it was updated from a previous 2012 version: 2:30-4 p.m. on Thursday; and 11 a.m.–12:30 p.m. on June 12.

In a news release, SDCI said a mandatory ordinance “is still a few years away” but that the draft technical standard will serve as a voluntary option for URM owners wanting to retrofit their buildings in the interim. It will also be used to develop the future mandatory retrofit ordinance.

SDCI: Building Momentum to Fix the Bricks


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Benjamin Benschneider


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