Building Code Revision Tips for Earthquake Resilience

Seismic Building Code Revisions

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Construction site for high rise building with crane and building in city

Building Codes are sets of regulations governing the design, construction, alteration, and maintenance of structures that specify the minimum requirements to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants. According to FEMA, seismic provisions to codes are inconsistent — even in states more susceptible to earthquake activity.

“A properly functioning building department will ensure that structures are designed and built to meet all building codes, including seismic codes, to protect the welfare of the community’s citizens,” says IBTS Director of Building Department Services Paul Hancher.

These tips provide advice on seismic building code revision and implementation to assist local government officials in building communities more resilient to Earthquakes.

Know what codes are specific to your local jurisdiction and state, and stay up-to-date.

  • Most states and local jurisdictions adopt model building codes maintained by the International Code Council (ICC), which updates codes every three years.
  • Unless your community has adopted the most current building codes, including seismic provisions, new structures will likely not provide the current minimum level of protection from earthquake hazards.
  • Unless existing buildings are significantly renovated, altered, or there is a change in use, the buildings will only meet the code requirements in place when built.

High-risk existing buildings can be made safer through seismic retrofitting.

According to FEMA the steps for this process include:

  1. Survey the building using Rapid Visual Screening of Buildings for Potential Seismic Hazards (FEMA 154)
  2. Evaluate the building using Seismic Evaluation of Existing Buildings (ASCE/SEI 31-03)
  3. If evaluation suggests that retrofitting is necessary, this should be done using Seismic Rehabilitation of Existing Buildings (ASCE/SEI 41-06)

You can read more about FEMA’s recommended seismic provisions and guidelines here.

Retrofitting must include steps to better protect non-structural components.

These can include components such as non-load-bearing walls and suspended ceilings.

Like any code or ordinance revision, a public input process is required.

Keep in mind that seismic code revisions require transparency to the community. The local government will need to advertise the revision, hold a public forum or information meeting before considering the revision, and provide a public input period.

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