By:  Nahum Goldberg
Senior Associate
San Francisco Office

One might ask what does commercial foodservice facility design have to do with seismic safety. Here in California there is a lot happening in this arena. As in many other areas such as energy and sustainability, California seems to have taken the lead in engineering for seismic safety as well – in the U.S. at least – and not only in the large-scale public and institutional projects.

Earthquakes are a fact of life and like any other hazard, people try and deal with them and mitigate the potential losses. The level of damage has to do with the magnitude and depth of the seismic event and the preparedness of and integrity of the structures affected. No doubt, stricter building codes and their enforcement help reduce the damage. Still, even when structures remain standing and usable, infrastructures are damaged, heavy equipment toppled and those in the vicinity suffer the consequences.

In order to prevent items from flying or falling on people during an earthquake and to reduce the overall damage, engineers prescribe anchorage or bracing methods for everything, from wall shelving to walk-in coolers, to hoods, and even for countertop equipment such as coffee urns and mixers. 

Until recently, the requirement for seismic bracing of equipment was most prevalent in state funded schools, hospitals and other public institutions.  Private projects rarely required seismic anchorage, but this may be changing. In recent months, a local city building department has focused its efforts on anchorage enforcement citing the California Building Code.  Plan check comments expressly required engineering of anchorage for all equipment heavier than 400 lbs and taller than 5’-9”. Until now, this type of enforcement was virtually unheard of in private projects. One does not need a seismograph to sense the rumblings of change.

Seismic Engineering – The realm of the Structural Engineer

Building codes prescribe necessary anchorage performance and design criteria. The new 2007 California Building Code (CBC) requirements aren’t quite as simple as the last version.  Instead of relying on USGS seismic zones for each locale’s design requirements, the 2007 CBC now uses “seismic design categories” which are determined based on SDS (the spectral response acceleration parameter at short periods) and the Occupancy Category.  This is not the lingo of the average foodservice designer. Thus for the Foodservice Design Consultant, working together with the Structural Engineer is becoming more critical in creating the tailored anchorage solutions for each application.

The Code Enforcement Leaders – California School and Hospital Agencies

For obvious reasons of public safety and facility preparedness, schools and hospitals have led the way with the most stringent safety and anchorage requirements.  Unfortunately, to the dismay of designers and contractors, much of the implementation has been left to the individual inspector’s interpretation of the codes and, as there is a limited body of knowledge and precedence rulings, some of the decisions have appeared to be exceeding the intent as interpreted by the designers and users.

California’s Division of State Architect (DSA) provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools and community colleges and various other state-owned facilities. This is a particularly scrutinized sector with special requirements and review processes.

Even more stringent than the DSA is the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD). Based in the state capital, Sacramento, OSHPD’s Facilities Development Division (FDD) reviews and inspects health facility construction and enforces California Building Standards code, as they relate to health facilities construction.  Both OSHPD and DSA have come out with a few welcome guidelines and standardized solutions to specific foodservice equipment applications – such as the DSA’s Interpretation of Regulation (IR) A-14 on Walk-in Box anchorage.

OSHPD’s guideline has Pre-Approval listings (OPA’s) for anchorage methods for certain equipment used in hospitals. This preapproval is a boon to architects or designers specifying vital equipment solutions. Unfortunately, few if any kitchen equipment items have OPA’s. The old “R” numbers, which predate the OPA’s, have been discontinued and are no longer valid for new projects. Where one R number used to cover a manufacturer’s high density shelving unit, today each high density unit would require a structural anchorage design stamped and signed by a state licensed Structural Engineer – taking into account structural characteristics of the building, location of the item, size and loaded weight of the equipment.

As Foodservice Design Consultants, our experience with the intricacies related to the anchorage and installation options and idiosyncrasies of the specific code review bodies are of considerable value in keeping a project on schedule and in control of the budget.  For health care and school projects we generally provide info on the loaded weight and dimensions for each equipment item. With this information and the equipment spec sheet, the project Structural Engineer proceeds to design anchorage methods for shelving, wall mounted handsinks, walk-ins, hoods – everything above a certain weight or height as listed in the applicable code. Some items may be held for deferred submittal, once the supplier is chosen and field conditions verified. Certain manufacturers will provide stamped anchorage drawings for a fee, or with the understanding that they will be the supplier.

For the items below the code weight and height prescriptions, anchorage per manufacturer’s recommendations or per the older (2001 edition) Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractor’s National Association (SMACNA) standard foodservice anchorage details are usually accepted. The SMACNA details have been around for years – word is that they are currently updating the anchorage guideline for national use and that it would adopt the most stringent guidelines, namely those of the current California Building Codes. 

As in other areas of code enforcement, more standardization would ultimately reduce confusion, expedite the work and save valuable time and money for everyone involved. In the meantime, as long as many of the decisions are left to individual inspectors, designers will continue to cover the topic in general terms in their specifications and the contractors and kitchen equipment installers will continue to fight the battles on each project. So another role of the Foodservice Design Consultant is to foresee and preempt these issues early on, and with proper specification and coordination avoid project delays and added costs – especially considering the extremely long code review processes with the public agencies and growing Contractor pushback.

New building should remain intact, but what about operability of vital equipment and services … and kitchens?

Due to more stringent building codes and engineering techniques, newer buildings are expected to remain standing after a major seismic event – but what about continued safe operation of the vital infrastructure and equipment? There is a greater awareness and focus now on continued operability of equipment and parts thereof. For all OSHPD projects, Special Seismic Certification Preapproval (SSC) of certain vital equipment and components that are part of the designated seismic system is required.  At this point in time, only active mechanical and electrical components that must remain operable following an earthquake require an SSC. Certification of these items can be attained in a standards testing lab with actual shake testing (!).  These SSC items might include ventilation systems, fire protection systems and the like, but with the intent of the code being that the facility must be reasonably capable of providing services to the public after a disaster, we may see this expand someday to include the dish machine, the ovens, kettles, ranges, refrigeration and exhaust systems.    

Will kitchens be included in “vital equipment” in critical service facilities, such as hospitals where we surely need services up and running immediately after a major shaking event? State code does require emergency and disaster plans for the hospital foodservices and the appropriate licensing authorities review and enforce this but they may not necessarily depend on all the equipment working so other temporary solutions must be planned for.

No one argues the importance of proper anchorage solutions – to keep the equipment from moving or falling on someone during a quake and potentially to allow for operability after a quake.  However, as codes change and enforcement intensifies, and as project budgets are tightly monitored, it takes an experienced team to avoid project delays and added costs throughout this complex process. In the future, considering the direction codes and safety concerns are going, commercial foodservice consultants may find ourselves specifying a whole new breed of seismically certified foodservice equipment designed to switch on and operate perfectly following what we call in California – “The Next Big One”.

Resources and Links:

Link to OSHPD SSC presentation

http://www.oshpd.ca.gov/fdd/Pre-Approval/OSHPDSpecialSeismicCertificationPreapproval.pdf

Link to shake testing videos

http://www.easeco.com/Dynamic_Testing.htm

Link to DSA website

http://www.dgs.ca.gov/Default.aspx?alias=www.dgs.ca.gov/dsa

Link to DSA Interpretation of Regulations Doc IR A-14

www.documents.dgs.ca.gov/dsa/pubs/IR_A-14.pdf

Link to USGS website

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/hazards/about/basics.php

Link to OSHPD Facilities Development Division website

http://www.oshpd.ca.gov/FDD/FAQ/index.html

Link to SMACNA website

http://www.smacna.org/

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