Content Previous Next


This publication is intended to help identify nonstructural hazards at the school site and to show how those hazards can be reduced. Nonstructural hazards can occur in every part of a building and all of its contents with the exception of the structure. In other words, nonstructural elements are everything but the columns, beams, floors, load-bearing walls, and foundations. Common nonstructural items include ceilings, lights, windows, office equipment, computers, files, air conditioners, electrical equipment, furnishings, and anything stored on shelves or hung on walls. In an earthquake, nonstructural elements may become unhooked, dislodged, thrown about, and tipped over; this can cause injury and loss of life, extensive damage, and interruption of operations.

Ever since the Field Act of 1933, public school buildings in California have been constructed to stringent seismic design codes; however, attention was not given to nonstructural hazards until relatively recently. Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations now prescribes some nonstructural seismic safety elements for new construction in public schools, but many nonstructural hazards are still not covered. Both public and private schools can make use of this publication to determine the extent of nonstructural hazards in their facilities.

The checklist on pages 2 through 4 contains the nonstructural hazards known to be dangerous or problematic in earthquakes. School administrators and engineers may carry the checklist with them as they survey a school site. After the survey is complete, any checked NO boxes represent hazards in need of correction.

In parentheses after each hazard listed there is either a brief solution or a numbered reference. The numbers refer to solutions on pages 5 through 18 that illustrate how to restrain or anchor nonstructural elements and thereby reduce their hazardousness. The illustrations contain the specifications necessary in order to correct the particular nonstructural hazard.

For some items the fix is fairly complicated, and (A/E) indicates that an architect or engineer should be consulted. (LS) after an item draws attention to the fact that it is a life safety hazard and should be a high priority for correction. Items in italics are generally already taken care of if they were part of recent state-approved construction in public schools.

This publication was developed jointly by staff at the Bay Area Regional Earthquake Preparedness Project (BAREPP), and the Structural Safety Section of the Office of the State Architect. An earlier BAREPP publication by Robert Reitherman, Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage: A Practical Guide, was adapted to address specifically those nonstructural hazards most common in California schools.

Any questions about the use of this document should be directed to Dennis Bellet, Code/Research Engineer, at the Office of the State Architect in Sacramento, (916) 445-8730.