March 24 was our
code-change submittal deadline for this next code development cycle.
This is the cycle where I expect any proposals based on observations
made after Katrina or Rita will be debated and considered. So it’s a
little early to know precisely what effect observations of Katrina or
Rita will have on the code development process.
Codes and Natural Disasters: Q&A with ICC’s Tom Frost
Tom Frost is senior
vice president of the International Code Council (ICC), a membership
association dedicated to developing a single set of comprehensive and
coordinated national model construction codes. ICC’s International Codes
(I-Codes) have been adopted by most U.S. cities, counties, and states.
Q: What is
the importance of building codes when it comes to preventing damage that
can occur as the result of natural disasters?
Building codes provide the basis for the design and construction of
buildings that can resist the loads imposed by winds, seismic events, or
other natural disasters. They also provide restrictions in some places
as to the placement of structures when those loads exceed what the
buildings can reasonably be designed for, such as flooding or storm
Q: When your
organization releases new codes, does it take into consideration lessons
learned from past events? For example, will ICC incorporate information
that was learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita?
That’s an ongoing process. In 2004, when we had the four hurricanes that
made landfall in Florida, we followed up with a symposium where the
research resulting from the observation of those storms was examined and
compared with the current code requirements. We wanted to see if the
codes adequately modeled the actual wind forces that were encountered.
And to a large degree that was shown to be the case.
information from the hurricanes is incorporated into the I-Codes, when
will that happen?
The 2006 edition of the I-Codes hit the street in February. The next
full edition that we’ll produce will be in 2009, and the changes that
are submitted in response to observations made during Katrina and Rita
will be debated in this next code development cycle, which runs
approximately 18 months. After that, we’ll release the 2007 supplement.
Then there will be another 18-month code development cycle. All of the
successful changes from both cycles will then be incorporated into the
2006 code, resulting in the 2009 edition.
Q: Do you
think the 2006 I-Codes offer stronger requirements that may prevent
damage due to excessive wind or flooding?
I think that they do a better job than previous editions of the codes,
and hopefully we can continue to observe that progress in predicting
what the wind forces are going to be for various types of structures in
various locations. There’s a lot more sampling being taken of actual
wind forces during storms than has occurred in years past. And with
better information comes better standards and better code requirements.
Q: Do most
states and cities use I-Codes?
Yes. The I-Codes are model codes and are adopted by reference by state
and local jurisdictions. Since these are models, state and local
jurisdictions do provide on occasion local amendments, either for
administrative purposes or to reflect what they consider to be
particularly unique local conditions. We would prefer that such
modifications not be of a technical nature. But at least we’re able to
put a model out there that is the basis for the next generation of
What we generally try
to do—and I think we do this rather effectively—is to strike a balance
between performance and affordability. It wouldn’t do anyone any good to
provide a level of performance that no one can afford. So the codes not
only have to be accurate in terms of predicting the wind forces or
seismic loads depending on what part of the country you’re in, but they
also have to be efficient.
Q: Why do you
think the I-Codes are effective?
The reason the code continues to grow and become more effective and
efficient is because of public participation. We don’t write the codes.
We administer the process of open code development that everybody
throughout the country participates in. The real opportunity is for
people to realize that and participate. For example, rather than make a
local amendment, submit it to the national process and give everyone the
benefit of that observation and experience.
Q: What do
you think is the value of one overall code rather than different
Two principle values. First, consistency, so you’re not experiencing
different requirements from one region to the next. Second,
accessibility. For someone who really wants to follow code development
and participate in it, he or she can participate in a single process
that has a national impact.