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The Adoption of the International Building Code for NYC
Department of Buildings' NYC Model Code Program
Public Hearing: January 29, 2004
by: Sally Regenhard, Chairperson, SSC
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign supports the adoption of the International Building Code for NYC, and congratulates the Department of Buildings for its excellent leadership role in response to the building safety issues brought to light by 9/11/01.
Our suggestions for adopting this code to the needs of NYC are as follows:
- I suggest that the various levels of Fire Resistance (i.e., the hourly ratings for structural members) specified for various types of construction be increased, especially for high rise structures.
- The structural Fire Resistance must be commensurate with the amount of time necessary to fight a fire in that particular building. It is evident that it takes much longer to evacuate and to fight fires in tall and super tall high rise buildings than it does in low rise buildings. However, at present, codes make little or no differentiation between a 10 story and a 100 story building regarding Fire Resistance! This must change.
- The NYC DOB has the opportunity to take a leadership role in acknowledging this need for change. The DOB should raise this issue, which critically impacts the safety and security of NYC's high rise buildings, in its interactions with both the ICC and the NFPA codes groups.
- Years ago, levels of Fire Resistance were gradually downgraded by various codes groups -- a move that was probably related to the increased use of sprinklers in high rise and other buildings.
- I am an advocate of the "R" word: Dare I say it? :"Redundancy". We cannot continue to subscribe to the dangerous practice of throwing all our protection needs into one basket -- and allow Fire Resistant standards to be lowered in buildings because they have a sprinkler system in place! While I am a firm advocate of sprinklers, nevertheless, you cannot rely on them 100% of the time. We all know how effective the sprinkler system was in those fragile WTC buildings on 9/11 - unfortunately, some of us know this more than others!
- The premise is simple: The taller and bigger a building gets -- the more additional protection we need to provide. Any Fire Department and Fire Protection Engineer will tell you that fighting a fire in a low rise building is different from fighting a fire in a high rise building. Therefore - the standards must be different to match the different sizes of high rise buildings. Another standard that must be changed, concerns the width of staircases. Staircase width must be increased to help evacuate buildings more quickly. This could make the difference between life and death in an emergency.
- Regarding Fire Department Radio Communications in high rise buildings: it is the utmost hope of the SSC that this provision will receive close scrutiny from the DOB. The inadequacy of FD communications in high rise buildings remains a critical issue that is characterized by dangerous shortcomings and inadequate technology in NYC today. This must be changed, and closely monitored for the safety of the public.
But no discussion of building code safety can be complete without referring to the fact that the very entity that sparked NYC Code reform: the WTC, was, and will remain, above the law. On 9/11/01, the Port Authority of NY & NJ's WTC buildings were totally immune from every single NYC building and fire code and were subject to "the Port Authority's own codes" which remain a mystery to this day, because no one has ever seen them. Under present law, the future WTC, will be just as immune as the old one was. This must be changed, and the SSC is demanding this change.
The PA repeatedly claims that they "meet or exceed" NYC codes, however, history has show that this is a falsehood. No high rise building of 100% bar joist floor construction before or since the WTC has ever been allowed under NYC standards and practices. According to the NIST/WTC Collapse Investigation, there is no evidence that fire tests were ever done on the fireproofing of the WTC - this is a glaring example of lack of code compliance, to say the least. Finally, the untested fireproofing was grossly inadequate- a clear violation of NYC codes, however, since no FDNY violations can be issued to such an "immune" building, no codes violations were ever served on these dangerous buildings. Indeed, the FDNY had no jurisdiction in the WTC, but paradoxically, they were required to risk and eventually lose their lives in these buildings! The SSC is presently involved in creating legislation to require that the new WTC will be constructed under the legal jurisdiction of the NYC Building and Fire Department Codes.
In closing, I must note that the economists among us may not want to spend additional money for the construction of a safe building, however, this must change, as the public demands it. In the past, codes groups worked clandestinely -- and the American public was not aware that basically two groups: the ICC and the NFPA, held the safety and security of the American public in their hands. It is one of the mission goals of the SSC to bring these groups out of the shadows and into the light, and to educate the public. The American public is like a sleeping giant when it comes to building safety and security. 9/11 changed everything -- and along with it, the knowledge that the public will increasingly hold builders and developers and municipalities as well as codes groups responsible for the buildings which they must live in, work in, and fight fires in.
We only get one chance to test, and survive, a fire emergency. In the post 9/11 field of building safety and responsibility, it is time to change the focus from economic considerations, to ethical and legal responsibility for human life. All those involved with the process of reforming the NYC Building Code deserve the greatest thanks and support - especially those selfless individuals who have volunteered their valuable time and expertise pro bono. All of you must lead by example -- the eyes of the victims of 9/11 and people of the City of NY and indeed of the world are watching. Thank you.
The Skyscraper Safety Campaign
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