Commissioner's Corner by John Caywood, Allen County Building Commissioner
John Caywood

Natural Disasters and the Role of Building Codes

This past week, I watched in awe as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma landed a one-two punch to the Gulf Coast region. One thing that stood out to me was the difference in degree of damage between Texas and Florida. Certainly one can argue that Harvey and Irma were two uniquely different storms, but there is more to the story. Following Hurricane Andrew hitting Florida in 1992, Florida concentrated on improving key building codes that make structures more resistant to high winds. Some housing along coastal waterways was raised as much as twelve feet above previous levels. Damage is still significant, but not to the levels seen in Texas.

Texas, on the other hand, even after Katrina in 2005, chose to defer the adoption of building codes to the local jurisdictions. The result is often a mixed bag of enforcement. For example, Corpus Christi follows codes that are nearly what the national standards are. However, Nueces County, where Corpus Christi is located, has no residential building code at all.

What does this all have to do with building codes in Allen County, Indiana? The most we see of a hurricane here is an afternoon of windy rain blowing from the south. I say it has everything to do with us. Allen County gets its share of rain and wind events on a regular basis. Unlike other jurisdictions, Allen County has adequate enforcement of building codes and zoning laws. While this will never prevent the event, it certainly helps mitigate the damage.

Having a staff of full time inspectors to ensure code compliance is sometimes the reason that a contractor puts the required number of fasteners in a shingle or the correct size rebar in a concrete foundation. Having that other set of eyes on a job keeps the quality of workmanship at an acceptable level. Allen County also requires that contractors be properly licensed to perform the work. These contractors must abide by rules and regulations which are overseen by their peers on the Building Department Board of Directors.

Allen County is fortunate to have active builder organizations such as the HBA and BCA willing to participate and lead efforts to maintain a sensible, economically feasible, and relevant building code for our community. When local government and building professionals cooperatively expect high standards, the community benefits with well-constructed private and public buildings.

Recently, one of my inspectors moved to a bedroom community outside of Indianapolis. He related to me how much lower the quality of housing stock is compared to Allen County. A model home built by a big name builder in that area was already missing shingles and pieces of soffit were dislodged. Coincidentally, no inspections, permits, or licensing are required in this jurisdiction for this type of work.

Allen County will experience a future weather event which will test the effectiveness of having a rigorous building code in place. I hope that we can show property damage was minimized and even lives saved by vigilant cooperation between the building community and code officials in constructing safe structures that weather the storms.

Sincerely,

John Caywood
Building Commissioner




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