Seismic Labeling: Creating an Incentive for Earthquake Safety

Aron Brand
Published in
5 min readFeb 7


Image by Aron Brand (Midjourney); Image created by AI — © the author has the provenance and copyright.

Yesterday was a devastating day for Turkey, with thousands of people dead and tens of thousands injured in a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. While earthquakes are a common occurrence in the region, the infrastructure in Turkey is incredibly vulnerable due to shoddy construction. This begs the question: Why don’t owners in seismically active regions renovate their buildings to bring them up to code? Why do they accept the danger of their buildings?

I believe that recognizing the market failure leading to the lack of renovation is essential in creating economic incentives towards earthquake safety. Furthermore, I suggest that mandatory seismic labeling of residential buildings would be an effective and cost-efficient way to address this market failure.

The main reasons why owners fail to renovate their unsafe properties are due to the high cost of reinforcing buildings, the need to evict the inhabitants, and the complexity of joint-ownership buildings. In order to justify the significant expense and hassle, there must be a substantial economic reward.

Significant property value appreciation is an essential element for the economic viability of the project and its financing. Without a major increase in value, in excess of the cost of the reinforcing the building, banks and other lenders will not provide funding.

Aesthetic renovations that are visible to buyers can increase the value of a property by making it more appealing. Fresh paint, updated fixtures, and new landscaping can all make a property more attractive and desirable to potential buyers, who are likely to be willing to pay more for such improvements. On the other hand, renovations made to improve a building’s structural stability often do not make economic sense, since tenants or buyers typically are not willing to pay more for earthquake-safe buildings and thus the expected increase in value does not materialize.

This is where the concept of hidden defects comes in. Earthquake safety is a hidden defect in buildings, as the risk of an earthquake is not obvious to the average person. The concept of hidden defects is especially pertinent when it comes to earthquake safety in buildings. As the risk of an earthquake is not obvious to the average person, it is not usually taken into account when evaluating a property for purchase or lease.

Furthermore, without regulation, property owners have a negative incentive to inspect their properties for earthquake safety, as any defects discovered would require costly repairs, or else the legal obligation to disclose them to future buyers or tenants, reducing the sale or lease value of the property.

To combat the problem of unsafe residential buildings, I propose the implementation of a safety score system, “seismic labeling”, for existing properties. This score would be based on both a mandatory safety inspection and the seismic risks of the location, allowing buyers and tenants to make informed decisions about purchasing or leasing a property. The value of an earthquake-resistant building would be reflected in its price, creating a financial incentive for owners to bring their properties up to code. Furthermore, this would provide valuable information to insurance companies on the risk associated with certain buildings, allowing them to adjust their premiums accordingly, thus providing further economic motivation for owners to renovate their unsafe assets.

The idea of product labeling as a way to provide transparency in a market is not new. This is an effective regulatory tool that has, in the past, solved a number of market problems by providing information to consumers. For example, the labeling of food products has helped to address the problem of food safety and quality by requiring food manufacturers to provide information about the ingredients and nutrition of the food. This transparency has also led to increased competition in the food industry as companies strive to differentiate themselves based on the quality of ingredients and nutritional value of their products.

The standardized labeling system that I propose requires a structural assessment of the building conducted by a structural engineer. This evaluation would determine the building’s ability to resist seismic forces and provide valuable information about its safety. It would also identify any potential weaknesses that may need to be addressed and allow the cost of necessary repairs to be estimated.

A standardized formula can be developed and maintained by a governing body or a professional association, with input from experts in the field of earthquake safety, to determine the overall score of a building on a scale of A+ to D based on a combination of the seismic risk of its location and the results of its structural assessment.

The cost of the structural testing would be borne by the building owners, although local authorities may provide some assistance, particularly in poor neighborhoods. This cost can be reduced significantly through economies of scale: Often, multiple buildings are constructed together, and they may have very similar structures and materials. By grouping these buildings together for testing, the cost of assessments can be spread out, providing significant savings in time and money. Furthermore, when testing is done through city or state level contracts, the cost of assessments can be reduced even further.

In conclusion, we cannot control earthquakes, but we can make informed decisions about the safety of our homes and buildings. The lack of information and transparency regarding the safety of buildings is a market failure that can lead to individuals making decisions that put their lives at risk. A system that provides a safety score would help address this issue. Seismic labeling would give buyers and tenants the information they need to make informed decisions about purchasing or leasing a property, and by reflecting the value of an earthquake-resistant building in its price, owners are incentivized to take the necessary steps to make their properties safer.

I’d like to end by calling on you to bring the idea of seismic labeling to your local government and urge them to consider adopting it. Labeling buildings in earthquake-prone areas can be a critical step in making sure people are living in safe and secure homes.

What do you think ? Let me know in the comments.

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