Streamline Regs to Speed Rebuilding 5/8/2006

 

Effective building codes and their efficient enforcement are vital to the safety of our citizens and the economic vitality of our communities. This has been amply illustrated by the U.S. Geological Survey report “Managing Risk in Earthquake Country,” marking the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire, and by the April 27 follow-up session from the March 1-2, 2006 Blue Cascades III seismic disaster exercise in Bellevue, Wash.

There is growing documentation of the urgent need to identify and eliminate administrative inefficiencies in the regulation of the design and construction of buildings. Lessons learned from hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Blue Cascades III exercise have exposed the need for:

•  building departments to adopt modern codes and be adequately funded to retain qualified staff that assures code compliance.

•  identification and removal of conflicting rules, regulations, processes and procedures that slow rapid recovery.

•  greater regional uniformity of codes and standards to reduce unnecessary costs and delays and facilitate access to qualified personnel outside the disaster area to supplement staff during damage assessment and recovery.

While some groups are making modifications in our building codes and standards to address “lessons learned” from 9/11 and recent natural disasters, such changes will affect only certain types of buildings and take three to six years to be adopted and enforced. Codes administration and enforcement programs touch all types of construction and streamlining changes can make significant improvements in effectiveness and efficiency within a year.

The results are impressive in areas where streamlining (often coupled with upgrading information technology) has been conducted. The state of Florida now is able to centrally provide emergency building permit issuing services to devastated localities. Regulatory costs of construction have been reduced by up to 60%, and building departments have increased construction volume workloads. And Los Angeles managed an 88% increase in construction volume with a 3% increase in staff.

Streamlining was the subject of a March 20, 2006, meeting at the American Institute of Architects’ national headquarters that brought together representatives from national associations, government agencies and private sector firms. They suggested:

•  sharing existing best practices that have facilitated disaster preparedness and recovery, reduced the regulatory cost of construction, and reduced delays in the “speed to market” of products and services.

•  greater use of information technology in operations, including on-line permitting, field inspections and electronic plans review, to avoid choke points in general construction or disaster recovery.

•  federal grants to enable state and local governments to streamline their regulatory processes in order to better prepare, respond and recover from disasters, and to help improve the nation’s economic strength and competitiveness.

A Streamlining Work Group was appointed to develop a five- year vision statement and agenda for a high-level public private sector conference. An important feature will be to coordinate with the FIATECH Capital Projects Technology Roadmap. A draft statement and agenda will be released for review and comment in late May. Supporting this effort are 38 national organizations and government agencies.

A growing array of tools are coming on-line to help states and localities, such as The Infrastructure Security Partnership’s Guide for Regional Disaster Resilience, and the soon-to-be-released Guide to More Effective and Efficient Building Regulatory Processes Through Information Technology, from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

Those of us in the streamlining initiative invite you to join this effort. Please contact me to receive materials and information on a proposed national conference.

Robert Wible is director of the National Partnership to Streamline

Government Development Project, Reston, Va., and former executive

director of the National Conference of States on Building Codes and

Standards. He can be reached at 703-568-2323 or rcwible@comcast.net