This May is the 40th year of Building Safety Month. Each year, the more than 64,000 members of the International Code Council (ICC) take part in Building Safety Month to promote the importance of building codes for providing a strong and resilient built environment, and regularly updated codes that ensure that communities are protected during and after disasters. This year’s theme is “Safer Buildings, Safer Communities, Safer World” and the weekly themes include disaster preparedness, water safety, resiliency/sustainability/innovation and training the next generation. Never is the importance of resiliency and disaster preparedness more clear than in the middle of the global coronavirus pandemic we are currently experiencing.
As we prepare ourselves for the increased severity and frequency of natural disasters, building safety is even more important. Disaster mitigation through the adoption and enforcement of building codes is one of the best ways for communities to prepare and protect against future disasters. Homes and buildings that are built in compliance with building safety codes and the officials who enforce the codes are essential to helping communities minimize the risks of death, injury and property damage in the event of a disaster.
This time of year is usually marked by the call from building departments to focus on the importance of building codes and the role the building safety profession plays in ensuring that the buildings in our communities are safe and resilient. During a typical Building Safety Month, local building departments would be spreading the word through public events at their local home improvement stores or municipal buildings. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, on March 30th, as a matter of public health Governor Northam issued a temporary stay-at-home order mandating social distancing, the cessation of all unnecessary travel, restriction on public gatherings and temporary closing of all non-essential public facilities. To comply with the orders and protect the health of their employees and the citizens they serve, local building departments have had to cancel plans for in-person events and rely more on other methods of promoting Building Safety Month. More information on the 2020 Building
Safety Month can be found on ICC’s 2020 Building Safety Month webpage:
While the coronavirus pandemic and the associated orders affect government operations at every level, especially challenged are the officials charged with the enforcement of Virginia’s building codes. In addition to exploring new ways to effectively promote 2020 Building Safety Month during the coronavirus pandemic, local building departments have also had to change how they deliver their services and are increasing or implementing methods to reduce contact such as virtual inspections, web based document submittals and electronic plan reviews. The Virginia Building and Code Officials Association has put together a fantastic resource to verify the operating status of local building departments (https://vbcoa.org/operating-status/).
The Department of Housing and Community Development has also made several changes to reduce person-to-person contact while still providing the same level of services. The Jack A. Proctor Virginia Building code academy (VBCA) has pivoted from in-person training to a remote schoolhouse. They have pivoted their curriculum to function in a fully online environment. In the immediate, the VBCA scheduled five online administrative and continuing education offerings. Over the next weeks and months, certification classes, which would have been cancelled due to the coronavirus, will transition online thanks to the hard work of DHCD staff. The State Building Codes Office has also made some changes to allow the 2018 Code Update Process to continue by moving all code development workgroups and other stakeholder meetings from in-person meetings to web-based meetings.
A couple of the benefits that have been realized through this unplanned transition to 100% web-based meetings and training classes are increased meeting participation by those that were not able to attend in-person meetings previously due to travel challenges, time savings from eliminating travel and meeting room preparations and reduced travel for agency staff and stakeholders. These benefits not only save time and money, but decreasing the number of vehicles traveling on Virginia’s roadways also reduces fossil fuel consumption and impact on the environment. Lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic are likely to change the way we all do business in the future, even after the social distancing, public gathering and travel restrictions are no longer in place.
DHCD’s COVID-19 Resources Page: https://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/covid-19
ICC’s COVID-19 Resources Page: https://www.iccsafe.org/advocacy/coronavirus-response-center/