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June 24, 2009 > Editorial: Who you gonna call?

Editorial: Who you gonna call?

I recently watched the 1984 blockbuster movie Ghostbusters and enjoyed it as much this time as when it was first released. Slimy, pseudo-scientist Dr. Venkman (Bill Murray) teams with brainy but quirky sidekicks Dr. Ray Stantz and Dr. Egon Spengler played by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis to defeat an apocalyptic emergence of poltergeists in New York City.

Summarily evicted from a cushy university setting, the trio is faced with the task of finding a new location for their paranormal research with an extremely limited budget. An old, dilapidated firehouse is about to be dismissed from consideration as Egon evaluates its structural integrity saying, "I think this building should be condemned. There's serious metal fatigue in all the load-bearing members, the wiring is substandard, it's completely inadequate for our power needs, and the neighborhood is like a demilitarized zone."

Stantz, who has borrowed money to continue the Ghostbusters charade, discovers a functional fire pole and the real estate broker watches in triumph as he ignores all practical considerations and exclaims with glee "Wow. This place is great. When can we move in? You gotta try this pole. I'm gonna get my stuff. Hey. We should stay here. Tonight. Sleep here. You know, to try it out."

In the ensuing contest with Gozer and its minion Zuul, creatures from another dimension, destruction of streets, buildings and automobiles is rampant as emergency personnel try to protect crowds and maintain order. The Ghostbusters scenario is, of course, fantasy, but controlling the crippling effects of real emergencies is the result of preparation and organization using resources available through well-trained personnel including police and fire departments. It seems reasonable to carefully consider the location for construction of vital facilities such as police and fire stations necessary to alleviate confusion and disorder during disasters. If the site of a potentially devastating occurrence such as a major earthquake is known, it seems wise to consider this when constructing a building for public safety purposes. The City of Fremont has already been forced to abandon and raze a city hall and jail due to unsatisfactory construction in proximity to the Hayward Fault. Now the city is faced with a similar threat to its police headquarters.

The city council is being asked this week to approve in excess of $1.7 million for a retrofit of the Police Station. In a Structural Evaluation Report prepared by the Crosby Group the "three-story steel moment frame building constructed in the mid 1990's" is found to be "extremely susceptible to significant damage during future sizeable earthquakes." Using two measurement guidelines outlined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, it is noted that under the lesser standard - Design Basis Earthquake - "damage to the building could lead to long periods of structural and non-structural repair, occupant displacement and possibly partial localized building collapse."

In a letter to Mr. Robert L. Kalkbrenner, Civic Facilities Division Manager for the City of Fremont, a Structural Peer Review by Degenkolb, an engineering firm, concluded, "The concerns at the subject building expressed in the report by Crosby Group, with respect to the potential damage during a design level seismic event, are therefore well founded." Noting the building's proximity to the Hayward Fault, they state, "The probability of significant ground shaking due to seismic activity on the various components of this fault are relatively high and are currently designated with the greatest probability of generating a significant seismic event over the next thirty years compared with other Bay Area faults."

It appears that although basic building standards were observed when the police station was built, the location of the Hayward Fault should have been a red flag waving frantically in the breeze. Design for a building so close to the fault is critical. A three-story structure with liberal use of glass may be pretty, but can it function after a significant seismic event? Dr. Ray Stantz would be proud but in the event of an earthquake, who you gonna call?

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