We arranged phone calls with Timothy Low, Oakland's building inspector, and Danielle Hutchings, ABAG's resilience coordinator. We started by letting them know our vision of the project and our intention to come up with vulnerability or risk-engineering factors that might be interesting to consider and to bring into our mapping efforts. Although they viewed it as an interesting idea – and said they thought our project would certainly be worthwhile and useful for them to have – they are more concerned with a more immediate question of which buildings should be exempt from the retrofit program and whether current exempt buildings comply with such criteria. Tim mentioned a database that includes addresses and key characteristics of about 300 exempt buildings, as well as pdf’s with more specific building information. On this call we had a green light to visit Oakland, get some of the documentation we might need, and possibly have a driving tour to identify features of exempt buildings.
A highlight from our conversation with Tim and Danielle is that their interest in surveying exempt buildings might modify the orientation of our project in a direction in which policy recommendation based on holistic vulnerability metrics becomes less of a priority. The analysis of exempt buildings is, however, quite complicated since not much data is available. Tim and Danielle’s suggestion was for us to do some analysis on an average building, instead of one by one, and evaluate the pertinence of exemption measures.
After class on Monday, Ryan spoke with Professor Chan about how best to approach the community meetings we will attending in the coming week. Professor Chan advised that we closely mediate “air-time,” or the amount of time each community members has to speak, as well as minimize community group size to an ideal 4 or 5 individuals. In addition, Professor Chan recommended that we encourage generative ideas instead of critical comments, and take careful field notes immediately following the meeting detailing our observations about community demographics, attitudes, and common comments.
What We Observed and Learned
After our multiple meetings with the Oakland Retrofit team, we believe we have a more comprehensive understanding of the Oakland Team’s approach to outreach and retrofit analysis, as well as a better understanding of how we might effectively contribute. In one such meeting, Sue Piper, the community coordinator, detailed how outreach for the project was primarily conducted with physical material, such as flyers and informational mailers, rather than virtually, with social media. She suggested to us that we try to improve their virtual media approach by rebranding and revamping their Yahoo groups page as well as potentially creating a Facebook page for the Oakland Retrofit Project. During our community meetings next Monday and Wednesday, we will be determining the best way to contact both the community represented at the community meetings and the communities not represented. In a later conversation with Tim and Danielle, we learned that the engineering and structural team on the Oakland project was in the process of re-evaluating soft-story buildings which were previously exempt. Although we previously knew of this effort, they gave us key background on how these buildings were initially exempted; through engineering evaluations to the ambiguous standards available at the time. With Tim and Danielle’s input, we collectively agreed that we would focus on using available models of typical soft-story houses to prioritize the vulnerability of the exempt locations, and that this would be a critical aspect of our GIS analysis.
Critical Analysis/Next Steps
Our most tangible next step is attending two community meetings in the next week. On Monday, Ryan and Gideon will be going up to assist and facilitate discussion at the first of these meetings, while on Wednesday Camilo and Luis – our resident Spanish speakers – will be doing the same at the Spanish-language meeting. The purpose of these meetings is to determine what aspects of the program are most concerning for the general public, and what aspects seem easiest to accomplish. Also, we are eagerly looking forward to putting faces and stories to the numbers that we have thus far been analyzing, and shifting our perspective to a more human-centered one.
On Wednesday Camilo and Luis (and potentially Ryan and Gideon as well) will also be meeting in person with Tim Low and Danielle Mieler. The purpose of that meeting is to pick up the large amount of data the city has thus far collected regarding the 300 or so soft story buildings that were exempted for retrofitting. Danielle wished for us to comb through those exemptions and see which ones were “soft” exemptions (i.e. exempt because of number of units, not in high-risk seismic area, etc.) or “hard” exemptions (properties that were for some reason or another exempted by an engineer).
In conjunction with this outreach work, we also plan on beginning our mapping project. First we will try and compile a list of all relevant engineering and demographic data relating to soft-story vulnerability. This will include USGS earthquake hazard data, Oakland’s open source data about soft-story location and Census information; all information we currently have at our disposal. Additionally, through our meeting with Tim we plan to get more in depth information about individual building’s seismic vulnerability as well as a spreadsheet from Danielle containing general information about the 1300 or so soft-story buildings they surveyed in 2008-2009. From here we will set up a meeting with David Medeiros to begin workshopping our mapping project. In this meeting we hope to get a spread of soft-story locations on our initial map and talk about how to input additional information based on a formula for vulnerability we plan on deriving. This vulnerability metric will describe vulnerability in terms of physical and social risk, but will need to be feasibly calculated using data we already have or plan on getting in the next few weeks. A meeting with some professors of Earthquake Engineering here at Stanford may help us determine the best way to create this formula.
Our final idea for this week is to begin brainstorming how best to deal with buildings that were given exemptions from soft-story classification during the initial survey. First, we plan on organizing these projects by reason for exemption. Through this we will be able to eliminate buildings that don’t fit within the project scope (i.e. buildings with 1-5 units). The biggest issue the city currently has with regards to exempt buildings is a suspicion that privately conducted analyses may not have been comprehensive enough to determine if the building is truly soft-story or not. Because of this, our next step will be to determine what standard these buildings will need to be measured by. There are a variety of federal, state and local standards for soft-story buildings, so we plan on coordinating with Tim and Danielle to determine which one applies best for the current situation in Oakland. Our next steps for this aspect of the project are a little uncertain; a professional analysis will likely be needed, which is not really feasible for our group to accomplish given our abilities and limited time frame.
And so, after our conversations this week, we feel as if our group’s focus has shifted slightly. We felt that Tim and Danielle had a definite idea for where our group could be very helpful, and we want to help them realize those ideas. We believe that after this coming week we will have completely nailed down what our project will entail. The meetings with the community and with Tim and Danielle will solidify both what they would most like us to help them with and what we are most interested in. This week will probably be the most formative one we have had thus far, and we are looking forward to it.