Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 1, 2017

Expert timing

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

I did not get a chance to get out to the big community meeting at Wood Middle School about Lum because it was Ruby Bridges Elementary’s STEAM Showcase and Silent Auction.  The Hamilton raffle winner was pulled that night so if you did not get an email you did not win.

Anyway, I read the tweets from the AUSD account and I started getting a little discouraged by the direction that some of the commentary from the community was heading in, specifically this direction:

There’s a theme here about being skeptical about the work of experts in their field simply because it doesn’t feel right to the receiver.  I would imagine most of the people who are expressing skepticism about the results of this expert study would agree in a hot second that climate change is real and that climate change denial is something strange and unusual.  However much like anything in Alameda when we receive information or data or reports — even from experts — if we disagree with it because it doesn’t fit our narrative we reject it.  We may sit around and mock all the “anti-intellectuals” nationally who don’t believe in climate change or that vaccinations don’t cause autism but what we’re doing locally is no different when we don’t believe experts, particularly when they have results we don’t particularly want to believe.

Look, I can totally understand the reaction of not wanting to believe that one’s school could sink and cause major structural damage in an earthquake, but how many studies will be enough?  How much more peer review (which I understand was done), how many more data points, how many geotechnical engineering reports will satisfy folks?   Two more?  Three more?  Ten more?

A lot of parents insisted that security fences go up around their elementary schools in Alameda for safety reasons to ward against some unknown and hypothetical threat from an active shooter, pedophiles, zombie hoard, or whatever.  We don’t have any data that active shooters, pedophiles, and/or zombie hoards will be deterred by a fence.  Or that there is a greater chance of active shooters, pedophiles and/or zombie hordes happening in Alameda in the near future, but we want these things because of safety, without a whole lot of question about the efficacy or need.

But tell people that a huge earthquake might completely destroy their school and needs to be closed down for the safety of students and staff and we’re all of the sudden skeptical of expert studies and reports.   I can understand the emotional reaction to all this.  Anything dealing with our children and their community is emotional.  But we also need to decide, before we head down this path of “I don’t believe you!” is how many more studies and reports will be sufficient to convince the majority of people that this is a real issue and requires immediate action?

As an aside, I read a letter from a parent critiquing the software used by the geotechnical engineer.  I found a older comparative study of different types of liquefaction software.  The software used, according to to study:

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 7.52.43 AM

Additionally the ph.D. who helped design that software further explains the modifications he made in order to calculate for thin layer transition zones.


  1. Lum is not the only school built on landfill. Can someone explain why it is at greater risk than the others? Is it due to the quality/makeup of the fill in that area, or was Lum constructed in a different way than the others? Or another reason?

    Comment by dave — May 1, 2017 @ 6:43 am

    • From what I understand it’s a combination of the type of foundation used (slab) and that it’s on fill all the way through. Next best comparison, Wood, has Bay Mud at the very bottom which doesn’t put Wood at the same risk.

      Comment by Lauren Do — May 1, 2017 @ 6:45 am

      • Is there talk of reconstruction at same site with more suitable methods (which would obviously take a few years), or permanent closure?

        Comment by dave — May 1, 2017 @ 7:10 am

        • TBD. But the line of argument above is doubting that there is an immediate need for diversion in the short term.

          Comment by Lauren Do — May 1, 2017 @ 7:57 am

      • Wood was also retrofitted 15 years ago with, basically, a giant steel beam exoskeleton.

        Comment by BMac — May 1, 2017 @ 7:12 am

        • Wood is more than one story. Lum is one story. Retrofitting Lum in the same way would not keep it from sinking into the mud. In fact, I wonder if they tested the sinking potential of Wood after adding the exoskeleton, since a lot of weight was added to the building.

          All the South Shore fill came from the same place at the same time. It should be no different under Lum than it is under Wood. And they have both been through a major earthquake (1989) already, after which many USGS studies were done.

          The whole point of science is to question conclusions and repeatedly test them. Science is being treated like religion nowadays ( mostly by people with no science background) , and unnamed experts are worshipped as high priests whose word should not be questioned. That is exactly what science is NOT.

          If you are going to rely on experts, name them. If you rely on studies, cite them.

          Comment by vigi — May 1, 2017 @ 9:34 am

        • Vigi, like B.o.B., is still open to questioning and testing whether the earth is actually a sphere rather than flat.

          Comment by Lauren Do — May 1, 2017 @ 11:14 am

  2. Fascinating how the narrative only works with one’s agenda…ie. Science/Climate Change=YES! Science/Seismology=NO! The hypocrisy is rampant and only getting worse. And so it goes…

    Comment by Il Cane di Ferro — May 1, 2017 @ 9:05 am

  3. I would welcome further seismic testing and having more information provided to the community about several issues:

    1) Why Lum is particularly at risk,

    2) How the risks to students at Lum compare to the risks at neighboring Wood Middle School,

    3) What earthquake risks there are at other AUSD facilities and how the risks to students and staff can be compared district-wide, and

    4) what mitigation strategies are available to protect all of the students, parents, community members, and staff who use and work in AUSD facilities in an earthquake or related events (tsunamis, etc.).

    That said, seeing mechanical engineers and retired MDs who are NOT trained in seismic safety take issue with seismic safety experts–who are, after all, highly specialized experts in a complicated field–is a bit disconcerting. Having grown up a mile from the San Andreas fault in Redwood City and having retrofitted the home we owned in the Gold Coast until 2009, I know more than the average person about seismic risks but am dismayed that some people are apparently not taking the safety of Lum’s students and staff very seriously.

    Using the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake–whose epicenter was 70 miles away–as a benchmark or baseline for evaluating the relative risk of liquefaction at Lum Elementary is foolhardy: don’t go there. You are courting disaster to think that the next one will be equally mild in its local effects.

    The US Geological Survey, the world-renowned experts in the field of earthquakes, make it clear that another major quake is coming, and soon: And if the next big quake has an epicenter within 2-5 miles of Alameda, the damage and loss of life will be far worse than either the Loma Prieta or Napa quakes. (The USGS says it is likely that an upcoming quake is likely to be centered “right underfoot.”)

    Although I am not a parent, I have volunteered with AUSD and career about “our” kids and “our’ AUSD staff. Parents, too. I would much rather see their lives disrupted socially and educationally by transfers to other schools (a relatively minor stress) than to see preventable carnage (dozens or hundreds of deaths and injuries )result from an earthquake flattening a school full of students, teachers, staff, and volunteers.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — May 1, 2017 @ 10:39 am

    • I think that your first 2 points are very good. Why LUM alone. More testing needs to be done at Wood and the other 230 schools in Alameda county that are in areas of high risk of liquefaction. Then we should continue with Hospitals, commercial buildings and gas stations. I know nothing about structural engineering but I feel like opening a consulting company in that field right now.

      Wow you talk about carnage! You are watching too many movies. On the other hand you cite statistics in your message. Can you please tell me the probability of a 7.3 magnitude earthquake with epicenter 2-5 miles from LUM happening during class hours compared to say the probability of these same kids being involved in a car accident? I bet you these kids are much safer at LUM than in their parent’s car. Even factoring the current catastrophic report. Citing statistics in the abstract is not very productive. Put the statistics in context and compare to something real and then you will find a message.

      Comment by Oliver Taylor — May 1, 2017 @ 2:01 pm

  4. Lauren Do is obviously not well informed about the situation at LUM. She writes an earthquake will “completely destroy the school”?? No report says that. You cited a paper that you probably didn’t even read ( in “according to to study”). Go to page 133 and you will see that the authors do not recommend the software CLiq for liquefaction analysis.

    So what’s wrong with questioning the experts, asking for reassurance and second or third opinions? The “experts” in this case can be challenged by other “experts” so that the board has objective and accurate material to take a final decision. This is a common practice in decision making. I do not understand why she tries so hard to defend the current reports when it is obvious that she does not have the technical knowledge to interpret them.

    Comment by Oliver Taylor — May 1, 2017 @ 11:19 am

    • Which of the experts questioning the experts have actually performed any of the required analysis to draw a conclusion? There’s nothing wrong with asking for a second or third opinion. Based on information provided though, a second opinion has already been provided, but whatevs. Parents who don’t believe the existing study need to come to terms first with determining how many studies will be enough to convince them that there could be a possible problem before heading down the road of “we need more info.” Because fault can always be found with technical reports, there are dozens of modeling software that exist out there that could provide any number of conclusions, will we only accept those that validate what we want the truth to be?

      I have no real stake in this whole business other than to advocate that my neighborhood school doesn’t get shafted by the decisions made by the District in whatever ripple effects happen.

      Comment by Lauren Do — May 1, 2017 @ 12:39 pm

      • Lauren you fear makes no sense. Once LUM closes the can of worms is opened. The developers will go after the other 230 schools in Alameda county that are in areas with high risk of liquefaction (including the one in your neighborhood). Once LUM closes those kids will be sent to other schools in areas at high risk of liquefaction because almost all of Alameda and Bay Farm are high risk. There will be overcrowding in the classrooms and chaos. If this is what needs to be done for the safety of the kids then lets do it. But first lets make sure that this pretty monumental decision with huge ripple effects is taken responsible and based on solid evidence and multiple independent professional opinions.

        Comment by Oliver Taylor — May 1, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

        • Sigh.

          When you bring in the conspiracy theories you’ve lost credibility. Particularly when you attempt to bring in the big scary “developer” boogeyman.

          Based on the information provided most of the other schools have been tested and cleared:

          There’s liquefaction risk but then there’s the risk of how the structure reacts to the ground sinking. So yes, a lot of Alameda is at risk of liquefaction, but it doesn’t mean that the sides of the buildings will collapse inside if the structure sinks. Which is what the structural engineer predicts could happen to the Lum structures (lightly framed, shallow foundation).

          Comment by Lauren Do — May 1, 2017 @ 3:03 pm

    • Oliver Taylor,

      All of us need to read and understand information that may exceed our technical training or expertise, but this can be done with careful reading and research. Lauren is always thorough in hers, and her citations of these reports suggest that this is no exception to her usual thorough study and analysis.

      What are your qualifications for disputing the findings of the district’s seismic experts, BTW?

      Comment by Jon Spangler — May 1, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

      • Jon, first of all I am not disputing the finding of the experts but I am saying that we should get other experts to do that. Multiple opinions in a delicate subject like this will not heart anybody and will help the board take a better decision whatever that decision is.
        Second these are not the district’s seismic experts but rather these are private companies in search of business.

        Comment by Oliver Taylor — May 1, 2017 @ 1:44 pm

  5. So what happens to the Wood students who just seem to wandering around, or at recess, when the ground turns to jello? The building will stand! That’s not enough. What about access to the campus, emergency vehicles, evacuation, and parents?

    Has the district discussed selling the land to developers yet?

    Comment by Questions to ask don't stop with Lum — May 1, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

  6. I think every single parent or teacher asking for a delay in the decision making, or is fighting to save Lum should sign a release of liability. Then they are welcome to stay there as long as they want.

    Comment by notadave — May 1, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

  7. In answer to a few of the questions posed here:

    1. Although Lum and Wood are near each other, the composition of Lum’s soil is different than the composition of Wood’s soil. Indeed, soil composition can vary even across one parcel of land. In addition, Wood’s foundation is different than Lum’s. Wood has a pier foundation (with pilings that go deep into the soil). Lum has a shallow slab foundation.

    2. Other schools have soils that are less subject to liquefaction and/or have better foundations.

    3. The structural engineer has said that retrofitting Lum would be very difficult.

    4. The district has tested all of the sites in AUSD and has received clearance on most of them. Several are still pending. (You can see the chart for this in the Board presentation from Friday night, which is on the web page referenced below.)

    5. District staff are in touch with the soil and structural engineers today to explore ways of getting answers to the questions raised Friday night.

    6. Please go to AUSD’s web page on Lum ( to see the technical reports, FAQ, press releases, and other materials.

    Comment by Susan Davis (AUSD Community Affairs) — May 1, 2017 @ 2:13 pm

    • Hi Susan,

      thanks for clarifying some of the questions. Can you please point me to the reports about all the other sites in AUSD? I would like to compare them to LUM.


      Comment by Oliver Taylor — May 1, 2017 @ 2:28 pm

      • Hello Oliver,

        We do not yet have the final (publishable) reports for each school site. But when we receive them, we will post them on the website (and let the public know they are available).

        Comment by Susan Davis (AUSD Community Affairs) — May 1, 2017 @ 4:47 pm

  8. Lum and Wood are so close it’s a little hard to think the bay mud is not the same. BUT I’M NO EXPERT! About 17 years ago Wood was retrofitted with the external moment frame and 70 foot deep piers, but at that time wasn’t Lum accessed also? If so what did those “experts” say ? If not, why not ?

    We had one big quake in SoCal since Loma Prieta and it was an upthrust variety which is scarier and more violent that a strike slip fault along plates traveling in opposite directions.

    (This Wiki seems spotty and is labled as such: It says Loma Prieta was on a undiscovered “oblique slip reverse” fault. Dip-slip is a subduction fault where one plate is driven under another and oblique slip is apparently combination of dip slip and strike slip. Our section of San Andreas is strike slip. Engineers were still piecing together clues left from Loma Prieta 5 years after, when Northridge happened. Northridge broke welded moment frames which is when engineers were compelled to come up with flexible joints, where the diagonal bracing is attached to the posts and beams. )

    Science of soil engineering could have some quantum leap forward after the next Hayward incident since the cycle is about 160 years apart and there was virtually nothing built in the east bay in 1850 for a comparison. I’ll bet the we won”t find that any level of preparation to be over built. The point being that buildings at Lum are more likely to be wrecked than not. To retrofit them the classrooms will need to vacated anyway.

    Comment by MI — May 1, 2017 @ 4:43 pm

  9. After being on the AlPo RAB for 6 years, i am used to reading technical reports about the fill there being a combination of clayey sand and sandy clay. No one has been able to tell me the difference. Now after reading the Miller-Pacific report, i learn that the South Shore fill is underlain by silty sand and sandy silt. I must say, I love this terminology! I could assume that clayey sand is stronger than silty sand–or is it? is there such a thing as silty clay? Or clayey silt? (LOL!)

    On page 3 of 4 , the important conclusion of these engineers is that, in the worst case scenario of a 7.3 quake and 0.52g of movement, Lum School will settle into the ground a depth of 3 to 7 inches. Not exactly falling into a sinkhole. I doubt the school would be destroyed as to cause loss of life.. But you probably wouldn’t be able to open the doors for the children to get out.

    I would like to know what kind of damage, if any, was found around Lum School after Loma Prieta. I didn’t find any such data in the linked AUSD documents. Remember, Loma Prieta caused sand boils to pop up out at Harbor Bay & Alameda NAS, and toppled a few chimneys in the Gold Coast.

    It also seems that the soil condition under Lincoln Middle School is still unknown? Will Lincoln be a candidate for closure if the same problem is found?

    Comment by vigi — May 1, 2017 @ 6:36 pm

  10. So much for the selling point of Alameda real estate being “good schools”.

    Comment by vigi — May 1, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

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