San Francisco Department of Building Inspection

Tall Buildings Seismic Safety Strategy

Crisis Communications, Then Flipping the Narrative


In August 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle broke a story on the leaning and sinking of Millennium Tower, a luxury condominium in downtown San Francisco. The building became an international headline and the embodiment of local skepticism that construction of tall buildings had outpaced San Francisco’s ability to effectively regulate these complex structures. Civic Edge was hired by the Office of the City Administrator, one of San Francisco's largest departments and oversees 27 agencies, to work with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI) to diffuse the story and develop materials communicating the City’s tall building seismic safety strategy to restore public confidence.   


Our team started by working closely with DBI’s engineers, inspectors and communications team to understand processes. We removed the jargon to make technical materials easier to understand, clearly defined the roles and responsibilities of DBI, and highlighted changes to make regulations stronger. With the facts up front, we worked on messaging based on citywide seismic safety. 

Shifting the Spotlight

By shifting the spotlight away from a single building to focus instead on seismic safety improvements as a whole, the narrative successfully flipped. Our team continued to provide media support, including interviews with 60 Minutes prior to a 2017 feature on Millennium, talking points, and local op-ed placements by City leadership. We also developed materials and supported event organization, including setup in 2019 for the City’s first Tall Buildings Safety Strategy Summit, which brought together leading seismic experts from across the country and national press from the New York Times.   

Project Expertise

  • Strategic messaging
  • Materials and collateral development
  • Media engagement
  • Event organization