I’m feeling pretty somber as I sit here writing this month’s column. Latest reports indicate 152 people remain unaccounted for following the partial collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida, on June 24. Nine people have died, and rescue crews continue to work around the clock with dogs and other equipment in search of survivors. My heart goes out to this community in the wake of this terrible tragedy.
The main focus on everyone’s mind right now is finding the missing people. Every hour that ticks by means less of a chance for survival. However, eventually, the focus will shift to, “Why did this happen?” There are already many speculations swirling around as the city of Surfside released a series of documents over the weekend. One of the engineering reports released — dated in 2018 — cited “abundant cracking and spalling of concrete columns, beams and walls” within the parking garage. The report also warned that the ground-floor pool deck concrete slab had major structural damage, and needed extensive repairs. While it is not yet known if these structural issues caused the building to partially collapse, the lack of action to address these repairs is concerning.
The New York Times reports, “the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was sending scientists and engineers to do a preliminary review, hoping to identify and preserve materials that might help understand the collapse.”
As all eyes are turned on Surfside, neighboring beachside communities have started inspecting their older buildings for structural damage in hopes to prevent another tragedy like this one. Those in the construction industry understand the importance of meeting modern building codes.
ICC’s Shawn Strausbaugh makes an excellent point in his feature on codes this month: “Model building codes are the foundation of a community and form an ecosystem of building policies that support the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhoods that adopt them. When wholly adopted and enforced by state and local governments, they can be extremely effective at reducing disaster damage, and keeping our existing structures standing and our economy healthy. In fact, FEMA projects that if all future construction adhered to up-to-date International Codes (I-Codes), the U.S. would avoid more than $600 billion in cumulative losses from floods, hurricanes and earthquakes by 2060. Additionally, the National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) estimates that adopting modern editions of the I-Codes codes saves $11 for every $1 invested through mitigation benefits against those hazards. By adopting the most up-to-date comprehensive, standardized set of codes, governments can help save communities money and time in rebuilding and, most importantly, help save lives.”
Help save lives. I don’t think there’s anything more important than that. No matter where this investigation ultimately leads, I hope what happened in Surfside forces other communities to update their building codes and take a look at their inspection processes. After all, we all want the same thing: Safe and healthy buildings.