Seismic Specialist A. Palma Engineering Plays Part in Several High Profile Projects

Most people who see a PG&E transformer while walking through Hacienda do not realize that it is not merely sitting on a concrete pad. It has been carefully anchored to meet code requirements so it does not break free or cause damage to its surroundings in case of a seismic event.

Hacienda-based A. Palma Engineering faces this type of scenario daily, often on a much larger scale. The small family-run business at 5980 Stoneridge Drive has honed a clearly defined niche in the engineering arena, specializing in designing the seismic bracing and anchorage of non-structural components in commercial, industrial, retail, and public works projects.

The components can range from pumps and rooftop air conditioning units to electrical conduit, switch gears, and panel boards - all critical pieces of infrastructure that could be vulnerable in a seismic event.

Working primarily through mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) subcontractors, A. Palma Engineering has been associated with many prominent buildings. This year's project list includes Stanford University, Highland Hospital, and UCSF Medical Center in the Bay Area; and the Long Beach Pier, Scripps Memorial Hospital, and the San Diego and John Wayne airport expansions down south.

The facilities might have high visibility, but the firm's role is definitely low-profile, according to project coordinator Zeke Palma. Virtually all its activities take place behind the scenes. "We do perform project site visits to make sure the design is built properly, but we don't do any installation or get our hands dirty. Surveying is not part of our scope.

"People don't see the things we work on," Palma continues. "It's like 'out of sight, out of mind.'" Nevertheless, the firm's engineering design work is a fundamental part of assuring that all building systems function as planned and up to code. "Our scope is to make sure that devices and systems do not cause further damage or do not fail themselves."

The business was founded by Adrian Palma, Zeke's father, in 2000. It now has six employees. While intent on remaining small, the firm has continued to grow, even in an uncertain economy. "The downturn hasn't hit us as hard as it did many larger companies," Zeke Palma observes. "Our small size is a big benefit. We can take advantage of our low overhead to be very competitive pricewise."

The firm gets another boost from its minority and small business certification, which helps it stand out from other engineering firms and has proven instrumental in winning several bids.

Still, it is A. Palma Engineering's expertise, reputation, and track record that have ensured its longevity. The engineering staff are thoroughly knowledgeable about seismic design criteria and categories. The variety of soil conditions throughout California makes each project different. U.S. Geological Survey maps are imperative for soil studies and help determine the spectral acceleration, or lateral force, at a specific location before the bracing and anchoring needs can be designed.

The small niche business needs little promotion. "Much of our work is repeat business, or comes through word of mouth," Palma concludes.

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