PORTLAND, Ore. -- It's a possible game-changer for earthquake safety: A new spray that could help buildings stand up to a powerful quake.
It's in the testing phase, but Portland emergency managers are watching closely because of how earthquake-prone we are.
According to Portland's Bureau of Emergency Management, our city has more un-reinforced masonry buildings than any city on the West Coast.
These are older brick buildings at risk of collapsing in a major earthquake, a quake scientists say could strike the Pacific Northwest at any time.
PBEM said it is a major safety concern.
"Total collapse is very possible especially with the types of earthquakes we can expect," said spokesman Dan Douthit.
Kathy Rogers owns one of those older brick buildings in Portland. She said she would love to seismically retrofit it, but, using current technology, the cost would be too high.
"The cost is really unaffordable for almost all building owners," she said.
But researchers at the University of British Columbia may have an answer. They have come up with a way to reinforce these buildings for about half of what current retrofit solutions cost.
And all you do is spray it on.
A UBC video shows how it works.
A traditional brick wall crumbles on a shake-table. But after the special concrete is sprayed onto it, the wall bends instead of breaking.
"So if you put fiber reinforcement, these fibers will actually bridge these cracks once the cracks are formed, and the concrete will continue to take stresses without collapsing," said UBC engineering professor Nemy Banthia.
The material is still in the test phase, but the city of Portland and many building owners are watching it closely.
"It's very encouraging," said Douthit. "Any new technology that can save lives and reduce the cost for building owners, we're a huge fan of exploring."
Next week, the spray will be applied to an elementary school in Vancouver B.C.
The researchers acknowledge many more studies need to be done before it is rolled out on a larger scale.