Don’t Shake Over Recent Quakes

[pullquote-left]Expert says builders need not be worried[/pullquote-left]

Dozens of earthquakes in the Dallas area this year have some folks a bit, well, shaken up. But should local residents and business owners be concerned, or are they just being paranoid?

Will the temblors become more frequent or more powerful? And how will it affect the real-estate market in Preston Hollow, which is just a few miles from the most concentrated area of seismic instability?

“If this was two years ago, if you were to ask me the last place I would expect to see an earthquake, I would say Texas, and specifically Dallas,” said Joshua Marrow, technical director of structural engineers with Partner Engineering and Science in San Francisco.

Yet in 2013, Texas was sixth in the country in the total number of earthquakes by state, well behind California, according to the United States Geological Survey. And those numbers have risen since. However, while the frequency is increasing, the quakes here aren’t damaging, and the chances for a major earthquake remain extremely remote, Marrow said.

Generally speaking, a 2.5 magnitude quake is detectable by humans. Most of the local quakes this year have ranged from 2.5 to about 3.6, which is insignificant to West Coast residents who have become accustomed to such tremors almost every day.

In California, earthquakes have historically driven building-code revisions. But Marrow said that structural engineers in Texas tend to design buildings for wind resistance, not earthquakes. Still, office towers can easily withstand the minor temblors we’ve seen so far, which might cause minor architectural damage but no structural damage.

“These earthquakes will not change the way we build buildings in Texas — not in my lifetime,” Marrow said at a recent luncheon hosted by the Dallas chapter of Commercial Real Estate Women. “These are discussion topics, and not things you need to be worried about in commercial real estate.”

Yet that hasn’t stopped Dallas attorney Joe Willoughby from receiving more frequent inquiries from local business owners about earthquake insurance.

“It has not been readily available in Texas, but that might change,” Willoughby said. “I don’t know that we need it in every case, but people want to have that risk covered.”

Tony Adamo, a geotechnical engineer with Drash Consultants in San Antonio, said high premiums and deductibles have steered most commercial developers away from insurance, since the low risk isn’t worth the cost, which would likely be passed on to tenants. However, it’s more affordable for homeowners, even if it’s not really necessary.

“These things are probably going to continue,” Marrow said, “but they’re probably not going to wreck your house.”

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