Apr 5, 2023 - News

SF expands inspections for skyscrapers after storms shatter glass

Photo with the perspective looking up at five different skyscrapers

Buildings in San Francisco will undergo safety checks. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

San Francisco has ordered new safety inspections for tall buildings after winter storms shattered glass windows on six high rises last month.

Why it matters: Shards of glass and debris rained from the sky during several separate storms in which violent winds reached 80 mph, leading to calls for the city to determine whether the glass failures could be part of a larger systemic problem.

Details: The new order — announced Tuesday by Mayor London Breed — requires accelerated facade inspections for buildings built after 1998 that are 15 stories or taller. Under existing rules, inspections for post-1998 buildings aren't mandated until 30 years after construction, at 10-year intervals.

  • But officials are moving up the deadline for taller buildings after finding that three of the six buildings with glass failures are less than 30 years old.
  • The new regulations, which take effect immediately, apply to 71 buildings in the city, officials said, and owners will receive official notification of the requirements this month.
  • A licensed architect or engineer must then conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the facades for these buildings, including window attachments and the glass element itself. Inspection reports will be due six months after the notification.
  • For pre-1998 buildings that are five stories or taller, the requirement to inspect every 10 years will not change.

What they're saying: The inspections will "give building owners additional insight so they can maintain their properties responsibly and help ensure the safety of our city," Department of Building Inspections (DBI) director Patrick O’Riordan said in a written statement.

The big picture: DBI initially said the glass failures were likely isolated incidents but moved to expand its inspection program after Breed issued an emergency declaration on March 27.

  • The storms — which occurred during the weeks of March 14 and 21— led to at least five deaths across the Bay Area and power outages for roughly 35,000 customers.
  • Though city officials say no one was seriously injured from the glass failures, ABC7 News reported that one of its employees had her hand cut by a piece of falling glass as she was walking to work.
  • One high-rise had a window shatter on every floor from 11 through 30.
  • Large pieces of glass also fell off the Fox Plaza tower in January amid similarly heavy wind gusts.

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