SDCI Releases Recommendations of the URM Policy Committee

On August 3, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) released the URM (Unreinforced Masonry) Policy Committee recommendations. First convened by SDCI in 2011, the policy committee brought together URM property owners, geological and seismology experts, structural engineers, architects, housing and real estate development representatives, and historic preservation professionals to develop recommendations on a city-wide URM seismic retrofit policy. After a hiatus to allow SDCI to gather more information, the policy committee reconvened in late 2016 to finalize their recommendations.

Unreinforced masonry buildings are brick buildings where floors and roofs are not structurally connected to the walls. There are over 1,100 identified URM buildings in Seattle – excluding single-family residences and duplexes – representing 26 million square feet of space and as many as 25,000 regular occupants per day. In the event of a major earthquake, these buildings represent a life safety risk. Scientists believe that Seattle is at 84 percent risk of a major earthquake in the next 50 years. Additional background information can be found on our Unreinforced Masonry Buildings website.

Highlights of the recommendation include:

  • Requiring mandatory retrofits to all buildings, except single-family residences and duplexes, that have URM bearing walls
  • Requiring a timeline for completion based on vulnerability of the building: 7 years for critically vulnerable buildings to 13 years for moderately vulnerable buildings
  • Outlining specific benchmarks that need to be met during the retrofitting process to ensure sufficient progress
  • Identifying a framework to enforce URM rules for buildings not in compliance


The report identifies over two dozen administrative, legislative, and/or budgetary tools that could be used to help in the implementation of the URM policy. Finally, the report provides a list of potential financing and funding options for assisting building owners in the retrofitting of their buildings.

Next Steps

With the results of the work of the URM Policy Committee, SDCI, in cooperation with other city departments, will:

  • Brief the City Council on the URM Policy Committee recommendations in September 2017.
  • Convene a working group of City staff from departments with expertise in finance and real estate along with external financial experts to develop a funding and financing proposal for URM retrofits. This group will assess potential retrofit financing strategies identified by the policy committee, including City tools, state and federal grants, tax credits, and partnerships with key players in the private sector.
  • Develop staff recommendations based on the URM Policy Committee recommendations, including possible early action items.
  • Develop a Director’s Rule establishing a URM retrofit standard to facilitate early adoption through voluntary retrofits.
  • Publish draft legislation for public comment.


We will post updates on the progress of our URM policy development in Building Connections and on the URM Policy Committee website.