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Why require some hospitals to withstand an unlikely quake?

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POSTED March 3, 2013 8:18 p.m.

It’s the $110 billion question plus financing costs: How likely is a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake in Manteca or places like Alturas in Modoc County?

Someone up in Sacramento might want to try and answer that before we spend a good chunk of $110 billion for nothing.

California hospitals are under the gun from Sacramento to seismically retrofit or build replacement hospitals by 2030 to withstand a 7.0 Richter scale quake or larger. It makes a lot of sense - on the surface. You need hospitals to be able to remain standing and functioning after a major quake.

What doesn’t make sense is the one-size-fits-all approach to quake safety standards in California.

If that can be justified by any logical argument, then why doesn’t the rest of California have to adhere to the San Joaquin Valley’s stringent air standards? We have the worst conditions because of geologically where we are located. But would it make sense for Eureka or Barstow to have to adhere to the same air rules? The same question can be made for parts of California that are a long way for active major faults.

The San Andreas Fault is one if the world’s most active and longest faults. There are also active faults that cross it.

Manteca, Ripon and Lathrop aren’t near enough to the San Andreas Fault to have to worry about the fact there is a 62 percent chance of a 7.0 Richter scale quake to strike by 2030. The damage here would be minimal at best. The 6.9 Richter scale Loma Prieta earthquake was felt in Manteca but the damage was simply cracks in some patios and water sloshing out of swimming pools.

We do have to worry about is the Tracy-Stockton Fault that runs across San Joaquin County starting near Tracy, under Stockton and ends near Linden. There were several 4.0 Richter scale quakes recorded near Linden in 1940. The United States Geological Survey indicates no appreciable movement has happened along the fault for three million years. The USGS pegs the highest possible quake potential at 5.0 and likely - if it does happen - to occur in central San Joaquin County.

The hospital seismic standards are an outgrowth of the 1972 Sylmar quake in Southern California that was 6.6 on the Richter scale. The Veterans Administration hospital in the San Fernando Valley collapsed, another hospital was destroyed and an additional 22 hospitals had to suspend some or all of their services. It should be noted the VA hospital that collapsed was relatively new and was constructed supposedly to withstand such a quake while an adjoining VA hospital structure built in 1925 was hardly damaged in comparison.

The California Legislature needs to revisit the one-size-fits-all approach to earthquake standards for hospitals. Doctors Hospital of Manteca is of newer construction that reflects standards designed based on seismic stress. Does it make any sense, though, to invest in a new building or a retrofit if the worst case government assessment is a 5.0 Richter scale quake with 10 miles of where it stands?

There needs to be a risk assessment done for all of California, People in northeast California in Modoc County should not be burdened with a standard that drastically exceeds the real risk to their community and hospital.

The madness imposed by Sacramento on areas of California is essentially overkill on a scale of Armageddon proportions. We will - through healthcare charges - be forced to pay dearly for something that isn’t needed or justified.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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