Code Council, SEAOSC partnership aims to be stronger and more resilient, just like their mission
A relationship that began more than 50 years ago, in advancing building safety through coordinated and comprehensive building codes based on sound engineering principles, has strengthened due to an earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic, to forge a partnership in seismic resiliency and increasing our ability to respond to natural disasters. The Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC) recently celebrated this connection with the International Code Council by honoring the association as its 2020 Safer Cities Partner of the Year.
“This award is presented to an organization that is focused on thought leadership and advancing the mission of safer cities,” said SEAOSC Immediate Past President Ken O’Dell, who presented the awards during its annual welcome event and awards program held online on Sept. 2, 2020. “During the course of SEAOSC’s 2019–2020 program, year we have been engaged with this partner organization through coordinated messaging following the Ridgecrest Earthquake, legislative endeavors and most recently in May of this year in bringing together our collective members to share conversation and lessons learned from the great pandemic of 2020 as we look to increase our ability to respond to natural disasters. In recognition of the great work being done and the incredibly important relationship that continues to strengthen behind this work, we are pleased to recognize the International Code Council as the 2020 Safer Cities Partner of the Year.”
Mark Johnson, executive vice president and director of business development for the Code Council, accepted the award, given in recognition of all the work on which the two groups have collaborated, including the “Building Safety Month Conversation: COVID-19 to Earthquake,” held on May 20, 2020. “The Code Council and its founding members have worked closely with SEAOSC and its membership for over a half-century in advancing building safety through coordinated and comprehensive building codes based on sound engineering principles,” said Johnson after the event. “For the Code Council to receive this award from an organization with such a long history of advancing the science of structural engineering and helping to shape our nation’s building codes and standards is truly an honor.”
During the Building Safety Month program, members of SEAOSC, the Code Council and the California Building Officials came together to discuss questions about COVID-19 and how their experiences can potentially inform preparation for, and response to, the next big earthquake to strike Southern California. Of the most important takeaways — incorporation of technology and digital resources, public interaction and communication, and the ability to stay flexible and adapt to changing circumstances — were key. These important ideas could be achieved through remote-use digital tools and resources, phone call centers and website updates, and empowered staff with tools and processes who learned from shared experiences and needs.
The discussions focused on similarities between challenges faced after an earthquake and during a pandemic as it relates to resiliency and continued operations, said Susan Dowty, P.E., S.E., regional manager for Code Council government relations in Southern California. Dowty said one impetus for this year’s Building Safety Month partnership between the Code Council and SEAOSC was a 20-minute ICC Pulse podcast with O’Dell a few weeks after the July 4–5, 2019, Ridgecrest earthquakes about 120 miles northeast of Los Angeles. The Ridgecrest earthquakes were California’s biggest in more than 20 years. The magnitude 6.4 earthquake that struck on July 4 was followed by multiple aftershocks and a magnitude 7.1 earthquake on July 5, which ruptured the earth in the Mojave Desert. While deaths were few, 3,000 people lost power and at least one major road had to be closed due to cracks and rockslides. The damage was estimated at $3.5 billion.
The Code Council and SEAOSC have collaborated frequently over the years (including through the Code Council’s legacy International Conference of Building Officials), but the Ridgecrest earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic helped facilitate an even stronger working relationship focused on seismic resiliency and natural disaster response. Since the Building Safety Month collaboration, Dowty, a SEASOSC member since 1986, has joined its board to help provide more direct input for upcoming joint programs; working alongside code officials, structural engineers and contemporaries in the field, including noted seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones. “With my work on the board, there are many opportunities for the Code Council to partner on many projects, especially those to improve resiliency. And not just so buildings and infrastructure can survive an earthquake but so that they can keep on functioning following the event, which is crucial to community resiliency. If we can make a community more resilient, residents not only can be safe but can get back to their lives much more quickly.”