Vulnerable Seawall Could Threaten S.F. in Earthquake


A new report by the Port of San Francisco released last week reveals that the Bay Area’s popular Embarcadero area, which constitutes a three-mile stretch between Fisherman’s Wharf and AT&T Park, faces a huge seismic risk if the sea wall buckles during an earthquake.

“This is one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure in the city, and most people don’t even know it even exists,” Patrick Otellini, San Francisco’s chief resilience officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “We can’t be afraid to have the conversation. We have to talk about the risk,” he said.

Of major concern is the fact that much of San Francisco’s northern waterfront was built after the devastating 1906 earthquake, which demolished much of the region. The Times points out that the buildings and piers there have not been tested in a major trembler.

The sea wall actually acts as a barrier and protection against floods. However, the foundation of the wall itself is quite unstable, as it was formed by carving out a trench in the mud, which was then filled with rocks that were eventually topped with the wall. This means depending on the magnitude and force of an earthquake, the wall could shift and move toward the bay, which would leave unknown damage to the wharves, piers, buildings and critical roadway that rest above it on the popular promenade.

Rising sea levels are also something that will require brainstorming and could cost $2 billion in and of itself.

The port brings in approximately $11 billion per year to the city, including through tourism. A major disaster, aside from the priceless loss of human life it could render, would leave a lasting and devastating impact on the business infrastructure of the area.

Some of the preventative measures that have been suggested include stiffening the mud that supports the rock wall by injecting it with cement to stabilize it. The cost of securing the wall was reportedly placed at approximately $3 billion.

Should a high-magnitude earthquake hit the region, as seismologists predict could happen in the near future, the Embarcadero’s famous Ferry Building –which survived the 1906 quake — would likely survive again, even if the wall shifts because it was retrofitted in 2003.

Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter @AdelleNaz.