ICC Members: Shaping the safety of the world around us — Dan Dolan
Code professionals ensure building safety today, for a stronger tomorrow. As the individuals behind modern codes and standards, these professionals are responsible for ensuring the safety and compliance of codes and standards, shaping the safety of the world around us, and serve as the safety foundation for our buildings. They don’t just ensure that buildings are constructed to withstand the stress of everyday use, they are behind the security and stability of every building. They specialize in preventative measures to help communities weather unforeseen natural disasters and ensure that first responders have less to worry about and can do their jobs safely. Code professionals are an essential piece in the building and construction puzzle and are engaged in the building process from the initial building plan to the finished product.
The International Code Council is a member-focused association with over 64,000 members dedicated to developing model codes and standards used in the design, build and compliance process to construct safe, sustainable, affordable and resilient structures. They protect the public through their commitment to building safety; enforce code compliance to empower and educate stakeholders across the built environment to embrace and integrate safety standards in their work; support economic development by making our buildings sturdier, and therefore longer lasting. Their knowledge, skills, and abilities impact every building, in every community.
The Code Council recognizes the importance of continuing to grow awareness of the important work that code professionals do and the impact they have, in the hopes of encouraging aspiring building safety professionals to join in on the building safety movement. In this exclusive feature for the Building Safety Journal, we asked Dan Dolan to share his experience in the industry, highlights of his professional career, and any insights or advice he has concerning the industry and the future of building safety.
Professor and Director of Codes and Standards
Washington State University
Pullman, Washington, United States
International Code Council member for 20-plus years
BSJ: What was the path to your career — how and why did you pursue a profession in building safety?
Dolan: I worked for Continental Oil and Proctor and Gamble after undergraduate school as a structural engineer. I then returned to graduate school due to an opportunity to work on a project that was unique (but would take too long to type here to explain). After I received my MS from the U. of Washington, my Ph.D. from the U. of British Columbia, and worked in Sweden on a project for Swedish Steel. After I received my Ph.D. I started working at a Land Grant Institution (Virginia Tech.) After 13 years, I moved to Washington State University (also a land grant institution). Part of the Land Grant mission is to do technology transfer or outreach. That is how I justified my work on building codes. I first tried to take on the manufactured housing HUD code when I found out that some manufacturers were not following the rules of the NDS when attaching the mobile homes to their chassis. I worked on trying to correct the issues until I was told to stop interfering in interstate trade. Only manufacturers and HUD can change the HUD code, I was told, so I moved over to working on improving the building code. When the I-codes were being drafted, I was representing FEMA and BSSC to try to update and improve the seismic provisions of the codes. I was asked to mediate the development of the structural sections of the IRC for the drafting committee in a meeting in New Orleans. I have been active in this role ever since, as part of the Seismic Code Resource Committee. I have served on the IBC Structures Committee and the IRC Building and Energy committee in the past. I also serve on the current Building Seismic Safety Council Provisions Update Committee, ASTM, and on the new ICC standards committee for developing a new standard for retrofitting seismically vulnerable buildings.
BSJ: What three things do you need to be successful in this industry and in your profession?
Dolan: First, you need a willingness to listen to the arguments from opposing sides of an argument. People believe what they believe for various reasons and they might have a better idea than you have, or they may bring up issues that you did not think of. Second, a willingness to compromise for a solution. It is rare that ideas that are initially raised are the “best” ideas. Usually, they can be improved upon. It is easier to get to your goal if everyone feels that they made progress toward their individual goals. Third, put your ego away. It should never be about you. The general public is an important concept. I initially got into this because I believe that 1) the house is the largest investment that most families will ever make. 2) the house is also the best solution to ending poverty (not for the ones that purchase it, but for the people that inherit it.) The value gives the children an initial stake to make a better life for themselves and their families. I strongly believe that this is one of the main issues of inequality in the United States. Owning a house is how much of white America got to where they are now. This option has not always been available to other races. It is important to protect this investment for our society’s benefit. The Building Codes and associated design and material standards are what protect this investment for our lowest economic classes. The rich will always be able to afford lawyers to protect their investments, the poor usually can not afford this luxury.
BSJ: What role have mentors, advisors or your network played in your career?
Dolan: Boy! This question is an important one! I would not be anywhere near where I am if it were not for mentors. Dr. Tom McLean, Dr. Geza Ifju, and Dr. Frank Woeste are the real reason that I even gained tenure at the university. They helped me learn to write a decent technical article, proposal, or other documents. Building Officials, such as Jerry Jones (Overland Park, KS) and Jonathan Siu (Seattle, WA), and others have taught me more about how to be effective in this arena than I can ever repay them for. ICC staff such as Mike Pfeiffer and Larry Novak helped me learn the rules of the game and gave me advice on how to negotiate with others during technical hearings. Technical representatives representing the various players in the building construction world such as Jay Crandall (NAHB), Steve Pryor (Simpson Strong-Tie), Hank Martin (AISI), Phil Line (AWC), Bonnie Mannley (AISI), Randy Shackelford (Simpson Strong-Tie) and many others taught me how the materials and contractors interact and what is important to their respective groups. Finally, colleagues at the Building Seismic Safety Council and FEMA such as Mike Mahoney (FEMA), Kelly Cobeen (WJA), Ron Hamburger (SGH), Charly Kircher (Kircher & Assoc.), Jim Mallay (Degenklob), and many more corrected my mistakes, supported me when necessary to move things forward. Every one of these people holds public safety up as their number one ethical duty. They were all role models for me.
BSJ: What led you to become an ICC member?
Dolan: I was a member of the legacy organizations BOCA and ICBO. When the merger was complete, I joined. I have always felt that if I was going to be effective in improving the building codes or design standards, I needed to be part of the game rather than be on, etc., criticize from the outside. It has been a good decision for me, and I have received so much support and mentoring from others in the organization that I feel that I have been able to achieve the main point of my philosophy of life. “Life is short, so live it to the maximum. However, the responsibility of every human being is that they are OBLIGATED to try and influence society to move toward what they see as the “perfect” society.” During my term of involvement, I believe that I have help do this by helping improve the building code, training building officials and inspectors, teaching engineering students about the process and their obligations as part of this career. Overall, I think that I have had a positive impact on society, and my involvement in the ICC process has been a major venue for me to accomplish this.
BSJ: Are you involved in any ICC committees or councils? Do you have any ICC certifications?
Dolan: I have served by mediating the drafting of the structural sections of the IRC. I have served on both the IBC and IRC technical update committees, and I currently am serving on the ICC-1300 Standard committee (ICC Residential Seismic Assessment and Retrofit Standard Consensus Committee [IS-RSARC]). I do not have any ICC certifications. I have my P.E. licenses in Wisconsin and Virginia.
BSJ: How long have you been in the industry?
Dolan: 40 years
BSJ: What major changes have you seen?
Dolan: I grew up in a bridge construction firm. So, I have been around construction since I was a baby. I started doing research on timber buildings in 1983. I have involved in codes since 1990. I have seen a change from being focused only on not killing people with structural failures to more and more focus on resiliency or property protection. I have also seen a change from when computers were a dream to how they now control everything. This change has been a very good change in this industry by making it much easier to stay connected with others in the field, allowing advanced analysis, and allowing changes to be better vetted and improved upon. This change has also helped the general public become more aware of how we are trying to protect their investments. It has also been easier to introduce new technologies with computers. Finally, the change from “smoke-filled rooms” and the “good old boys network” being the main method of introducing change to the building codes and design standards, to requiring balanced committees and consensus processes to modernize the codes and standards. These have been excessively effective changes for the better.
BSJ: What excites you about the future of your industry?
Dolan: New technologies being developed to improve the resiliency of the built environment. I believe that future buildings will be built more quickly, with improved quality and resiliency. I believe that in the future, all of our society will be able to benefit from these improvements. I also believe that we will soon begin to design for the de-commissioning of the built environment. This is a change from designing for buildings to last forever. I think that we will begin to design so that the building, or parts of the building, will be able to be taken apart easily and reconfigured, reusing the original components, to refurbish or change the use altogether.
BSJ: What is one piece of advice that you would give to those starting out in the industry?
Dolan: Do not be afraid of starting! There is a whole world of people out there to help you succeed. All of the people that I have met only wanted me to succeed, even if they were on the opposite side of the argument. I have never experienced malice in any confrontation that I have been a part of. I have only had people trying to make improvements and having different motivations. However, they are ALWAYS willing to sit down and talk through the issue and make compromises so that the final change is an improvement and the public is the end beneficiary.
BSJ: What do you see as most surprising about the work that you do?
Dolan: How much enjoyment I get from it. I did not want to be an engineer. I wanted to be a concert violist. I sold my instrument to help pay for my undergraduate education after my father was killed and my mother convinced me that I should get a job that had a secure paycheck. However, I feel that in the end, I am in a position that allows me to achieve the main tenant for my philosophy of life. I am also surprised at how much of the world I have been able to have influence. I spent from June, 2018-August 2020 in Chile helping them write a new building code for social housing (not just building the building, but also operating the building) It does no good to help someone into a house or apartment if they can not afford to operate the building. I worked in Kenya dealing with providing potable water to 27,000 people in the bush, I worked on the French seismic code the Eurocode 5 (timber structures), and have had an influence on the Canadian code. I am always amazed that how much of a difference any average person can have if they are willing to take a chance and are working to improve life for others.
BSJ: What would you like to do next in your professional/personal life?
Dolan: I will continue to mentor young people entering the career, and I want to go back to building custom furniture. I will retire from the university in two years. However, I plan to continue to work with our laboratory doing testing for companies trying to gain an ICC-ES listing, working in the Building Seismic Safety Council and Seismic Code Resource Committee, ICC technical hearings.
BSJ: What do you enjoy doing in your leisure time?
Dolan: I enjoy sailing, fly fishing, sky diving, hang gliding, scuba diving, hiking, gardening, remodeling my duplex, and cooking. Life is short! Live it to the maximum! Most people only have one shot at this. I am one of the lucky people that have had more than one shot. I have been brought back from death twice, and I do not intend to be afraid of living life and feeling the excitement of life.
If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title would be?
Dolan: An Uncommon Average Person
There’s a world of opportunity in being a member of the International Code Council. Membership provides the tools to get the most out of each workday: from discounts on essential International Codes and other publications to the best prices on top-quality training and ICC certification renewals, Code Council membership helps budgets go further. Exclusive member benefits include code advice from expert technical staff as well as access to member-exclusive news and articles at the Building Safety Journal news portal. Plus, only Code Council members vote in the ICC code development process. An online Career Center allows job postings and searches for new job opportunities — all at no additional charge.
The Code Council offers numerous councils, committees, and resources to help code professionals grow and network with colleagues. Six discipline-specific Membership Councils offer members a place to come together and be a more powerful force in shaping your association, your industry, your career, and your future. Code Development Committees are an instrumental part of the ICC code development process and are responsible for the review and evaluation of code change proposals submitted to the International Codes. Professional Development Committees serve to better align the ICC education programs and certification programs to ensure that quality training is available to meet the needs of all members, customers and certification holders. Finally, the Value of the Code Official toolkit helps members to heighten awareness of the importance of code officials to their communities and to highlight the code official’s role as a helpful advocate for community safety, health and welfare, and economic development.