Unreinforced Masonry (URM) Buildings in Washington State

URMs & Earthquake Preparedness

In the 18 years since the Nisqually earthquake hit Western Washington, our state has made some important changes to rehabilitation methods, building codes, and financial incentives for historic preservation. But with seismologists predicting another sizable earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest in the coming years, earthquake preparedness is a major priority for our region, and historic preservation is an important part of the conversation.

Brick buildings represent the greatest risk for damage and injury from a seismic event, and they are often among our state’s historic sites. A recent report issued by the Washington State Department of Commerce and Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation found 4,493 suspected or confirmed URMs in Washington State, 748 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the Washington Heritage Register. (Check out the Washington URM Dashboard, an online interactive database developed as part of the report, via the link below.) Thus, as architectural historian and Washington Trust board member Michael Sullivan puts it, “Remedies for earthquake preparedness are all about historic preservation.”

As Washington State moves forward with earthquake preparedness strategies, it’s important that preservationists participate. We have the opportunity to help shape policies that will save both lives and history. But we need to pay attention to conversations about earthquakes and structural improvements for older brick buildings. We need to be engaged in conversations with building code officials, emergency service folks, and elected representatives responsible for public safety. Currently SB 5106, a bill that would support the creation of a work group to study and make recommendations on natural disaster mitigation and resiliency activities, is making its way through the Washington State Legislature, where it has been passed in the Senate but is currently in committee in the House. The Washington Trust pledges to be a part of this ongoing dialogue and to keep our constituents informed about important developments and updates.

Read the Report

Visit the Washington URM Dashboard