Foundation, Concrete and Earthquake Engineering

Earthquake Shakes Starbucks Building

Introduction: A magnitude 6.8 earthquake, called Nisqually in seismic circles, rocked Seattle, Washington, in 2001 and severely damaged the Starbucks corporate headquarters building.

Case Description: The 1,850,000-square-foot facility is a vintage 1910–1926 building, constructed by poured-in-place concrete with URM (unreinforced masonry) filler walls, which are known, in this day and age, to be prone to failure when faced with an earthquake or high wind pressure. Fortunately, about a year before the earthquake, the building had been seismically retrofitted.

Adjusters International was hired by the building owners, Nitze-Stagen & Co., Inc., to address, among the many issues, the position taken by the insurance carriers that the building was old and the damage pre-existed the magnitude 6.8 earthquake.

List of Issues

  • The insurance carriers’ consultants took the position that most of the cracks had occurred before the earthquake.
  • The insurance carriers’ consultants prepared a repair proposal that was based upon the installation of Heli pins into the URM in-filled walls.
  • The carriers argued that although the slabs were cracked as a result of the earthquake, the cracks did not affect the performance of the slabs.
  • The carriers refused to pay out for the projected cost of repairs before the repairs were effectuated.

Solutions Applied: Adjusters International assembled a team of engineers to prepare a dynamic analysis and presentation that cited petrographic analyses demonstrating that Nisqually had indeed caused the cracks.

Adjusters International’s team of engineers proved that the carriers’ proposal to use Heli pins to repair damaged walls would result in additional and more severe damage to the URM walls in the event of another magnitude 6.8 earthquake. Such a repair, Adjusters International’s experts additionally pointed out, was not in compliance with FEMA guidelines.

Our team researched the legality of the insurance carriers’ position that coverage applied only to actual repairs, and Adjusters International was able to prove that the carriers’ position would not stand up and would be impossible to defend in a court of law. Ultimately, the insurers agreed.

Outcome: Adjusters International’s team of professionals created a body of legal and technical evidence that clearly demonstrated the effects of the large earthquake on the building. The evidence also shed light onto the scope of damage another earthquake could cause if the course of repairs was not properly directed. With the help of Adjusters International, the building owners were able to make repairs in the manner they felt would best protect their assets for the future.

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