The Los Angeles City Council voted to require new standards for cellphone towers to protect them against seismic activity, including earthquakes and aftershocks.
The proposal, which passed the city council last week unanimously, would create a new set of standards for cellphone towers that could potentially protect cellular networks in the event of an earthquake.
“This is a tangible thing that we as a city can do that would make us better prepared,” Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfield said. “It doesn’t change the footprint dramatically of these towers, it doesn’t dramatically increase the cost.”
While there hasn’t been a major earthquake in California since cellphone use has become widespread, when a 7.9 earthquake destroyed parts of the Chinese Sichuan province in 2008, more than 2,000 cellphone towers were disabled, which created a communication gap that lasted for weeks.
Blumenfield, who sponsored the proposal, said the bill was one of the most common-sense proposals for earthquake preparedness. The plan would require freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. Currently, cellphone towers are only built strong enough to avoid collapsing and killing people — not strong enough that they would remain functional in the event of an earthquake.
“This is about earthquake functionality,” Lucy Jones, a seismologist who served as the Los Angeles mayor’s earthquake science adviser last year, said. “This is really sort of a first time that, looking forward, we said the government’s role goes beyond just saving lives, and has a role in making sure that our economy is up and functioning after a disaster.”
While the new law would create a new set of standards, the text of the bill does not require a retrofit of existing cellphone towers, which officials said would be too costly. According to a report from the mayor’s office released last year, retrofitting old towers could end up being as expensive as new tower construction.
“A lot of the times, a lot of the other policies about earthquake preparedness are more complicated and they require multiple pieces,” Blumenfield said. “Here is a discrete, tangible step, that doesn’t need to wait for all that, that we can just take action on.”