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Disaster Emergency Services

The Disaster Emergency Services (DES) Committee was developed to assist local communities in coping with disasters. One of its chief activities is the SEAONC volunteer program, which is coordinated with the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and SEAOC. This program includes damage simulation workshops and assistance to CalOES and local building officials after local and distant damaging earthquakes.

In addition, DES is in charge of updating the computer data base used to contact volunteer inspectors in the event of an emergency. It matches the experience and expertise of the volunteers with the type and extent of damage to be assessed.

Urban Search and Rescue Program (USAR)

Under the coordination and management of the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) Urban Search and Rescue Program, the eight California USAR Task Forces are part of a nationwide response system, sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Complicated Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) most often occurs in buildings that are fully or partially collapsed and very dangerous. These buildings will normally be multi-storied structures containing heavy debris with a high potential for additional collapse. The US&R team with specialists trained in search, rescue, and medical care will need to work in this dangerous environment. Engineers, trained and experienced in damaged building evaluation, help to reduce (or at least better define) the risk to these teams and to victims. In order to function effectively, these engineers must also be well prepared to make difficult value judgments in an environment that is very different from the orderly, design office. By contrast, the search, rescue, and medical members of the team are asked to make rapid, high-pressure decisions as a normal part of their occupation.

In 1990, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established the National Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Response System, which included the formation of integrated disaster response task forces. Currently, there are 28 FEMA US&R Task Forces spread throughout the continental United States. Eight of these Task Forces are located within California, including two in the San Francisco Bay Area. Designed for heavy search and rescue in the event of large-scale disasters such as structural collapse in an earthquake, these Task Forces are comprised of firefighters and civilians with diverse backgrounds and specialty training.

When mobilized, each Task Force is comprised of 62 specialists that include physicians, structural engineers, heavy equipment operators, communications experts, hazardous materials specialists, rescue firefighters, search dog handlers and logistics specialists. By design, there are two Task Force members assigned to each position for the rotation and relief of personnel allowing for round-the-clock task force operations. In addition, Task Forces are capable of operating totally self-sufficient for the first 72 hours of deployment.

Related Links
California Task Force 3
California Task Force 4
Urban Search and Rescue
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

SEAONC / CalOES Volunteer Reserve Corps Program

When earthquake disaster strikes a community, there is an immediate need for damage inspections. The Structural Engineer's Association of Northern California has teamed with the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to recruit, train, and maintain a group of licensed engineers who are ready to respond following a major earthquake to assess the safety of building structures. There are currently approximately 278 SEAONC members who are registered as Volunteer Safety Assessment Engineers. To activate such a large pool of volunteers, the SEAONC DES-ATC 20 Subcommittee has created an e-mail communication network in order to provide rapid response to the affected communities.

The SEAONC DES-Volunteer Reserve Corps Subcommittee also organizes training for qualified engineers on the ATC-20 Procedures for Post-Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings, which includes rapid and detailed evaluation procedures for inspecting buildings and posting them as "inspected" (apparently safe), "limited entry" or "unsafe".

The primary purpose of the SEAONC/CalOES Volunteer Reserve Corps email list is to determine, as quickly as possible, the number of Safety Assessment Engineers available to volunteer following a major earthquake in California, or elsewhere in the United States. The Reserve Corps list also serves as a means of communication between organizers and volunteers to discuss deployment issues such as transportation and lodging.

The Reserve Corps email list has replaced the antiquated phone tree due to its ability to instantly contact volunteers from a central pool of email addresses, without having to depend on multiple levels of volunteers to spread information through changing lists of phone numbers.

Upon receipt of a request for volunteers from CalOES, the DES committee leadership will activate the Reserve Corps list, which will send an email to each registered Safety Assessment Engineer with details of the potential deployment. Those available for deployment shall respond via phone or email as directed in the message, as soon as possible. In addition to generating an email announcement, a notification will also be posted on the main SEAONC webpage for volunteers unable to check their email regularly.

Registered CalOES Safety Assessment Engineers must be sure that they have a valid email address on file with SEAONC and with the DES committee, and to confirm that is added to any spam-blocking “white list” that may prevent delivery of Reserve Corps notification emails.

For a SEAONC/CalOES Reserve Corps Application, click here.

For more information about the ATC-20 Procedures for Post-Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings, click here.


Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP)

This award-winning DBI program allows San Francisco building owners to pre-certify private post-earthquake inspection of their buildings by qualified engineers upon acceptance of a written inspection program. The SEAONC DES-BORP Subcommittee supports the program by reviewing the inspection plans on volunteer time.

After a major earthquake involving damage to San Francisco buildings, it is important that local buildings can be inspected and reoccupied and that business can resume operations as soon as it is safely possible. The purpose of a precertified emergency inspection program is to allow a quick and thorough evaluation of possible damage to a structure by qualified persons familiar with the structural design and life-safety systems of the building. This private emergency inspection could facilitate rapid decisions regarding the closure or reoccupancy of building areas. Prearranged emergency inspection could reduce inspection delays, as the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) and volunteer inspectors will be utilizing standard emergency inspection and posting procedures with priorities geared toward public safety rather than expeditious business resumption. Some building owners may wish to develop programs of private inspection for their buildings to permit rapid, individualized emergency response.

The Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP) is an award-winning program of the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection, developed in cooperation with SEAONC, BOMA, and AIA. BORP allows building owners to precertify private post-earthquake inspection of their buildings by qualified licensed engineers upon acceptance of a written inspection program. The BORP subcommittee reviews and recommends approval of written inspection programs; develops BORP guidelines, training programs, and other informative materials; and promotes BORP participation through seminars and newsletter articles.

Number of BORP Approved Buildings

As of: July 8, 2010
San Francisco - 112
Other jurisdictions - 6
San Francisco Building List


Building Occupancy Resumption Program
Engineers: Why BORP?
Building Owners: Why BORP?
BORP Guidelines for Engineers
BORP Flowchart

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Contact Us

Structural Engineers Association
of Northern California
575 Market Street Suite 2125
San Francisco, CA 94105
Phone: 415.974.5147

Mission: To advance the practice of structural engineering, to build community among our members, and to educate the public regarding the structural engineering profession.

Vision: A world in which structural engineers are valued by the public for their contributions to building a safer and stronger community.