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How Will Napa Respond to the Next Disaster?


Today, we are consumed with the COVID-19 Pandemic ravishing our Nation. However, we cannot forget that we are subject to other natural calamities that can uproot our lives and structures.

In 2014, Napa experienced the 6.1 earthquake that rattled the valley destroying thousands of structures. In 2017, the October wildfires scorched the hills and destroyed over 700 structures. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_2017_Northern_California_wildfires Up until the early 2000’s, Napa had experienced periodic flooding and while that has ceased, the rising oceans will affect the Bay and ultimately the Napa River. Are we ready for the next natural disaster?

We all know, but don’t want to acknowledge, that new stress faults in Napa Valley topography will eventually show themselves, rupture and cause more damage to our structures and life. https://www.usgs.gov/natural-hazards/earthquake-hazards/science/m60-south-napa-california-earthquake-august-24-2014?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects We are not free from catastrophic wildfires especially now that the hills harbor dried hazardous brush waiting to burst into an inferno.

Our billion-dollar gamble to stop the river flooding seems to have paid off, but will arising oceans from global warming bring the brackish Bay water up the Napa River placing Downtown Napa in more peril? https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-02-11/foster-city-sea-level-rise

We all tend to think our buildings are safe if they have survived these catastrophes. The reality is: the building codes are designed to allow people to escape catastrophic events, not save the building. Most of Napa’s homes and buildings were built prior to the most less stringent codes and likely could fail in a new calamity unless the builders and architects maintained a higher than minimum code construction standard.

Architects and engineers are dedicated to making buildings safe while minimizing our carbon footprint with green design and sustainable products. We often make building improvements that focus on one section but not the whole structure. It would be wise for all us to think of the entire assembly and how to make it more resilient in any event.

When we renovate a portion of a building, we are obligated to bring that area up to current code for electrical, plumbing, and structural. That would be the opportunity to improve the structural integrity of the entire building or provide more fire-resistant construction on the exterior to maximize fire protection.

These suggestions may seem like tall orders to protect against an unknown future natural calamity. We can all prepare for such events without making a huge fuss, whether you are a business or a homeowner.

In hillside or rural areas, standard construction is called Wildlife Urban Interface or WUI. All exterior materials must be fire resistant and wood must be at least 2 1/2 inches thick. Cement Fiber Board or stucco is the dominant exterior siding. Decks must be fire resistant, not synthetic material that can melt, and roofs must be Class A tile or comp. https://www.usfa.fema.gov/wui/

The database shows that Napa has a 96.55% chance of a major earthquake within the next 50 years. https://www.homefacts.com/earthquakes/California/

The chances of more power outages and wildfires puts 7 in 10 Napa residents at risk.https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/update-three-quarters-of-napa-county-could-lose-power-county-says/article_99c8014e-b185-5927-b8f2-a9d3935cceb6.html

I won’t even try to predict the potential Napa River cresting with global warming. All we can do is our professional best to minimize damage and heartache before the next calamity.


Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB

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