Earthquake Alert

How would Coachella Valley infrastructure fare in a big earthquake?

Are schools, hospitals and the I-10 safe?

How would Valley infrastructure fare in

COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. - News Channel 3's Karen Devine takes a closer look at Coachella Valley infrastructure, specifically, what Caltrans, one school district, and a local hospital are doing to make sure the public is safe when the big one hits. 

On July 19, 2015, a portion of eastbound Interstate 10 was severed after a flash flood caused the Tex Wash Bridge to collapse. Design flaws were ultimately blamed for the 48-year-old bridge's failure, prompting Caltrans to take a closer look at all bridges and overpasses along the I-10 stretch to ensure the safety of the public in any natural disaster, including an earthquake. 

You can find all of our special earthquake coverage here: Earthquake Alert 

"We're redoubling our efforts to ensure that each bridge is inspected and it meets the criteria of the inspection requirements if it doesn't it will be recommended for retrofit or replacement," said Philip Havens, public information officer for Caltrans District 8.

That includes the newer constructed bridges and overpasses like the one at Date Palm and I-10. Haven says twice a year, a professional engineer comes out to inspect per federal requirements. "Safety is our number one priority, we do take steps with the inspection program to ensure that all of the motorists that drive over the bridges are safe in the process," he said. 

Meantime, over at Palm Springs High School, millions of dollars have just been spent to upgrade its auditorium, a retrofit for earthquake preparedness.

Renamed the Richards Center for the Arts, the auditorium now meets the current seismic standards. This building's historic status made the retrofit a challenge as the outside walls could not be torn down.

Julie Arthur, the Executive Director of Facilities and Planning for Palm Springs Unified School District, pointed out some of the structural changes that went into a recent $15 million retrofit of the auditorium.

"We removed all the concrete, all the seats came out, concrete dug down almost 15 feet and repoured all concrete footings out for another 20 feet to give it that seismic stability, as well as we had to remove the entire roof," Arthur said. 

Most of the money for the retrofit came from a district bond passed in 2008. They also received nearly $4 million in state seismic funding.  The historic designation helped in the decision to do the retrofit and renovations.

"Your big performers like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, 'the Rat Pack', they either preformed here or practiced here on the stage. The film festival has used the facility for the past 26 years.  The building is used by thousands of people a day," Arthur said.

Perhaps the biggest, longest-running and most expensive earthquake retrofit in the desert is happening at Eisenhower Medical Center.  Since 1994, when the Seismic Safety Act was signed into law, Eisenhower has spent more than $450 million on projects that include seismic compliance.

"Based on Seismic Safety Act, hospital buildings in California have to withstand earthquakes and be functional after an earthquake," Ali Tourkaman, VP Ancillary and Support Services for Eisenhower Medical Center, said.

Only one building on the entire Eisenhower campus was rated at "1," the lowest score on a 1-to-5 scale of seismic compliance. It was the original structure, built in 1969, and known then as the Ike Wing but now called the Washington Building.  

"The building was originally designed as three separate buildings, so seismically these buildings were designed to shift and really function independently of each other in a seismic event. The goal of the upgrade to be undertaken now is to connect the three pieces together so in a seismic event the building will function as one," Tourkaman said.  

Tourkaman also went on to say that the hospital's first and foremost goal is to make sure the patients are not disturbed and above all that they are not exposed during construction.  

The deadline for the $35 million retrofit of the Washington Building is June 2018.  The Seismic Safety Act is an unfunded mandate meaning Eisenhower Medical Center, which is a not-for-profit hospital had to raise millions of dollars for the construction to come into seismic compliance.

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