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San Francisco Shows How To Boost Business Resilience

Explaining the Building Occupancy Resumption Program (BORP)

An interview with Laurence Kornfield & David Cocke S.E., F.SEI,F.ASCE

Prior to the Loma Prieta quake, the City of San Francisco had a system for post-earthquake building safety and inspections. Modifying the existing process as a result of on-the-ground learning from the Loma Prieta event, was the genesis of BORP, the Building Occupancy Resilience Program. BORP is based on the idea of a City deputizing licensed structural engineers to investigate buildings and develop a plan with building owners in advance of an earthquake. Following an event, armed with pre-knowledge of the facility and up-to-date building drawings and documentation, the structural engineer can immediately assess the safety of the building and allow re-occupancy or more quickly begin the shoring up and repair process.

Laurence Kornfield, a special assistant to San Francisco’s city manager, has been part of San Francisco’s 10-year seismic safety issues study and was instrumental in developing BORP.


dcDavid Cocke S.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE
, a licensed structural engineer, worked with Laurence in the aftermath of Loma Prieta. They are both major advocates for the new program and the win/win it brings to citizens, cities, and building owners.


“A program like BORP allows building owners to save days, even weeks, of being unable to occupy their building by simply doing some pre-work to qualify for the program.”

David Cocke S.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE, Co-Founder, SAFEq™ Institute


What makes you such believers in BORP?

LK: BORP is a major step forward in building earthquake resiliency. Cities have the ability to deputize private, licensed structural engineers to perform building assessments instead of depending on overwhelmed post-earthquake city inspectors. The public benefits as the city works side-by-side with private companies to get them safely back in their buildings and back to work. This public-private collaboration builds public confidence in infrastructure resiliency through thoughtful pre-earthquake planning. It is a great combination.

DC: We learned so much from the Loma Prieta earthquake. BORP was a natural extension to the existing post-earthquake programs, and now building owners can save days, even weeks, of being unable to occupy their building by performing simple and effective pre-work to qualify for the program.

What did you see after Loma Prieta that helped create BORP?

LK: Following the quake, owners and tenants feared their buildings might not be safe. Understandably, they didn’t want to re-enter until the city inspected and officially tagged the building. The need for building safety tags overwhelmed city inspectors. Commercial buildings sat waiting to be assessed until city inspectors could get to them. There were numerous aftershocks, people were scared, and building seismic safety inspections are labor intensive. It took a long time to let people know their building was safe or what shoring was required to make the building safe.

Another thing we saw was without any prior or common building information, a structural engineer or inspector tended to be overly conservative when tagging buildings. If they saw anything out of the ordinary or they didn’t understand something, they were likely to red or yellow tag the building. As a result, many buildings got red tagged until someone could make a more detailed inspection based on their knowledge of the building and current condition. BORP provides building specific documentation eliminating the post-earthquake tendency to over tag a building in the first place, reduces the burden of re-inspection, and allows the recovery process to quickly get underway.

DC: Over conservative tagging was a big problem. Let’s say a building received a yellow tag, meaning tenants could enter the premises to get their things out, but could not re-occupy the premises full time because of a hazard or possible area of collapse. A yellow tag triggers an additional city inspection to validate new shoring or simply to review the situation more carefully.

Pre-BORP, re-inspection could take weeks to occur. A lot of the uncertainty and frustration for building owners came from not knowing what needed to be done to deal with a tag and get the nod it was safe to reoccupy the building.

How hard is it to put BORP in place?

LK: The good news for the City is that BORP is simple. It is not arduous or complex. To adopt BORP is an administrative action and does not require city council action. Unfortunately, most cities haven’t thought through their post-earthquake response, i.e. we are going to tag things this way, file specific building information here, or don’t understand how a post-earthquake response should be handled. BORP outlines the whole post-earthquake process.

DC: For building owners, making an upfront investment in BORP gives them and their tenants confidence. Pre-earthquake, business owners learn a building’s strengths and weaknesses, their operations, and what is critical to business resiliency. We walk them through the process. Together, we develop a priority building list based on their operations. As an example, parking structures are often overlooked when in fact they are critical or high priority buildings. What happens when a parking structure is shut down? Thousands of employees can’t get their cars out to go home and see their families. Furthermore, without a safe parking structure occupants can’t drive to work. It is all about resiliency.

Every business is different. Our clients are sophisticated. Together, we work to blend business needs with building structures as part of an overall resiliency plan.

LK: BORP creates confidence that officials are acting to get the city back to work, safety is increased and downtime is reduced.

What kind of resistance do you see from building owners getting involved with BORP?

LK: Amazingly, many larger building’s only long term plan is for maintenance and repairs. If an activity is not mandated, owners might not see the need to make even a simple investment. Building owners, who have implemented BORP, see the value. Right now, San Francisco has approximately 130 buildings with BORP in place, and BORP adoption is expanding to include about 200 city-owned buildings. We are constantly pushing BORP for large apartment buildings, for big, high-impact, high-value buildings.

DC: Sadly many mistakenly believe that if a building has already been through one earthquake it must be earthquake-proof. Or if a building has survived dozens of earthquakes, the building will survive future earthquakes. Experience has shown such thinking is simply not true. Such an attitude prevents many building owners and cities from being truly and intentionally prepared for an earthquake.

What is your message to building owners?

LK: Get a resiliency plan in place now. After Loma Prieta, it took city inspectors 3-4 days to two weeks for inspectors to get to some commercial buildings for and initial inspection and tagging. A city inspector’s first order of business is public buildings and buildings located in an extensively damaged district posing an immediate hazard or wide area problems. Commercial building owners need to know that for their own preparation and resiliency planning. BORP provides owners a way to get back into safe buildings and get back to work in the shortest possible time.

DC: Get a plan and pre-arrangement with a structural engineer right now: pre-earthquake. Without pre-certification, finding an engineer to inspect their buildings post-earthquake can take a long time. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake, my desk had a stack of urgent phone message messages from building owners desperately requesting an inspection. Our committed response time to pre-certified clients is within 8 hours of daylight. Building owners need to realize that in an emergency situation, structural engineers are critical to getting back into a building. It is imperative to have a pre-earthquake agreement for post-earthquake services. Without a plan and a pre-arrangement with a structural engineer, it will likely take weeks to get to the front of the line.

What do you see for the future?

DC: Keep in mind that the Loma Prieta 7.1 magnitude earthquake for 10 to 15 seconds. Northridge was a 45 second, 6.7 magnitude earthquake and, with a $40 billion economic loss, one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Had Loma Prieta or Northridge been longer or stronger, many more buildings would have been destroyed with a higher economic impact. Programs like BORP benefit multi-building campuses and high-rise buildings, they help cities recover faster following an event like an earthquake. We have a huge opportunity to learn from San Francisco’s experience. We give communities the confidence and ability to safely get back to business as soon as possible after an earthquake. That truly drives me and my team.


LAURENCE KORNFIELD served as a Chief Building Inspector in San Francisco for 20 years. He has been active in earthquake hazard mitigation, response and recovery since the Loma Pieta earthquake in 1989. He initiated and oversaw San Francisco’s recently completed Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS), and is currently developing long-term CAPSS implementation plans. Mr. Kornfield has been the Special Assistant to City Administrator for Earthquake Safety Implementation; City and County of San Francisco; since May 2011.


DAVID COCKE S.E., F.SEI, F.ASCE founded Structural Focus, a SouthCalifornia-based structural engineering firm in 2001, after 20 years in the structural engineering business. He is a leader in structural design for all building types with special expertise in historic buildings and film industry structures. David is a recognized expert in building business resiliency and continuity related to earthquake risks and has been an on-the-ground responder after the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes. David’s experience with pre-planning and minimizing business interruption drove him to co-found SAFEq™ Institute. SAFEq™ Institute brings together Southern California’s cities and building owners with information, activities and professional services to minimize business loss.