Austin to ‘determine next steps’ with ‘reactive’ approach to building inspection

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Austin is working on “determining [its] steps forward in dealing with existing buildings ”following questions from KXAN about its“ reactive ”approach to building inspections and the Miami-area condo collapse in June that killed 98 people.

“I appreciate the opportunity to be part of these discussions to determine our steps forward in managing existing buildings,” said Beth Culver, Austin Building Manager, “as we explore the challenges and responsibilities that we all have in regards to building safety ”.

On Tuesday Culver and Austin, Deputy Code Director Elaine Garrett, asked to speak at a virtual meeting of the International Code Council. The ICC, which sets building safety standards around the world, is working to avert yet another disaster. The organization is drafting new safety guidelines, including the frequency of home inspections, which are expected to be released in January.

The ICC had previously said that KXAN’s proactive inspections were “absolutely critical”.

“Keep in mind the 98 people who perished,” said Sara Yerkes of the ICC.

The ICC said recent meetings with building experts from across the country have highlighted the “need for periodic inspections” of buildings. The condominium collapse has become “kind of a wake-up call for most people,” said Mike Pfeiffer of ICC.

While there are calls for more proactive inspections, Garrett has championed the city’s reactive approach.

“We’re not entirely proactive at all,” Garrett said. “We respond to complaints that come from the community. ”

The challenge, she says, comes down to staffing. The increase in construction, new skyscrapers and the number of buildings over 40 years old present “major challenges”.

“We’re seeing more and more construction here in Austin,” she said, “which poses major challenges for us. “

Over the past year, the Austin Code Department has received more than 28,000 complaints, according to Garrett. The city prioritizes those to be treated first based on severity.

“Austin faces the challenge of staffing for the number of complaints received,” she said in response to a question from KXAN about whether the city will reconsider its reactive approach. “We headed for proactive inspections for specific communities that identified repeated issues.”

The ICC says its guidelines will not be “one size fits all.” The organization hopes its recommendations will be adopted by cities around the world, including Austin.

Some experts have called for periodic inspections of buildings at risk and the most vulnerable. The Austin-based Structural Engineers Association of Texas says that if this happens, these findings should be reported to building officials to ensure any detected safety issues are addressed.

“There has to be some bite behind it to be effective,” said Brad Cheshire of SEAOT. “I think that’s a direction a lot of jurisdictions will want to take.”

The ICC’s final recommendations could be released within the next six months.

“We are all determined to find solutions that work,” said Yerkes, “so that we no longer have catastrophic collapses of existing buildings.”

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