Steve Gemmell: Earthquake Tech

Steve Gemmell was working as a contractor for several years when he first encountered the issue of retrofitting.

“I owned an old house and I wanted earthquake insurance,” he recalls. “I called State Farm up and asked for an earthquake insurance policy. They asked me if my house was bolted down and I didn’t know what that meant. So I called my engineer and he told me what it was and how to do.”

That was in 1999. Since then, Steve has transitioned his business from general contracting and construction to a more focused service: seismic retrofitting. His company, now called Earthquake Tech, has become one of the leaders in seismic retrofitting the Pacific Northwest, anchoring more than 300 homes to their foundations every year.

According to the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, “Older buildings and homes are especially at risk because they often lack adequate anchorage to their foundation and were not designed to resist the shaking and movement expected from earthquakes today. Identifying potential hazards ahead of time, strengthening homes, buildings and utilities can reduce damage and the dangers of serious injury or loss of life from an earthquake.”

As a licensed retrofitter, the staff at Earthquake Tech offers homeowners a way to meet these recommendations. The company provides several different services ranging from a typical seismic retrofitting to stabilizing cracked foundations.

Earthquake Tech

Steve says most of the homes he works on were built before 1976, as older homes are much less likely to have their frames bolted to their foundations.

“We’d have these surges,” he explains. “2004 was the Indonesian earthquake that caused the tsunami and people got interested then. And there were the earthquakes in Chile, Haiti, and then Japan in 2011. After Japan, it really set the tone for the city.”While his business has become steadier over the years as earthquake awareness builds in the Northwest, Steve says his company, Earthquake Tech, always sees an increase in calls every time there is a major earthquake.

A typical retrofitting takes his crew only one day and usually costs $3,000 to $6,000, Steve says, adding, however, sometimes more work is required.

“We can get into specialty situations where the foundation needs to be replaced or upgraded,” Steve says. “We have a system that allows us to upgrade it without taking it out. That can cost $50,000 to $200,000.”

And while there are still many homes in the Portland metro area in need of retrofitting, Steve has incorporated a new focus to his business: commercial retrofitting.


“I’m going to be moving deeper into the commercial side of construction and retrofitting,” Steve shares. “The city has a whole plan for rezoning the inner-industrial Southeast area that I think will put those old commercial buildings on the market. They’ll either be torn down or they’ll be revitalized, and if they’re revitalized they all need to be upgraded.”

In addition to providing retrofitting services, Earthquake Tech’s staff also offers educational seminars to real estate agents, home inspectors, and insurance agents, and attends community events like street fairs to help raise awareness among homeowners. It’s good for business as well as a precautionary step toward protecting the community should a major earthquake strike.

Find out more about Earthquake Tech at:

About The Author: Katie Mitchell