IBHS Commends Maryland Legislators for Strengthening Building Code

April 10, 2013

The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) commends the Maryland Legislature for passing SB 750 / HB 769, which prohibits local jurisdictions from weakening the wind design and windborne debris provisions of the Maryland Building Performance Standards. The bill is on its way to Governor Martin O’Malley who is expected to sign it soon.

Last year, there were two major federally declared disasters in the state of Maryland: severe storms/straight-line derecho winds and Hurricane Sandy. Both of these storms demonstrated the destructive and widespread power of wind. Physical and economic damage was very significant and occurred well beyond the coastal areas thought to be most vulnerable to wind. These storms validate the theme of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Mitigation Framework, that it is critical to identify new ways to ‘stop increasing the trajectory of our risk and start taking steps to reduce it.’ SB 750 / HB 769 is one such way.

By focusing on wind and wind-borne debris, SB 750 / HB 769 addresses a source of significant potential damage in Maryland, not only along the Atlantic coast and Chesapeake Bay, but also in inland areas that also may be subject to winds from hurricanes and tropical storms, extra-tropical cyclones, nor’easters and other massive winter storms, as well as certain tornadic winds.

IBHS examined Maryland’s building codes in the first-of-its-kind report, “Rating the States: An Assessment of Residential Building Codes and Enforcement Systems for Life Safety and Property Protection in Hurricane Prone Regions.” Maryland (73 points) scored in the middle of the state rankings. At the time IBHS conducted the research, Maryland had adopted the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC), including the fire sprinkler requirement, with very few amendments.

Since the IBHS report was published, Maryland has adopted the 2012 IRC and passed additional legislation prohibiting local jurisdictions from opting out of the fire sprinkler requirement, making the state an important leader in this important life safety protection. However, with the exception of fire sprinklers and energy provisions, local jurisdictions in Maryland are currently allowed to amend and weaken other aspects of the state building code, including wind resistance, which defeats the goals of uniformity in safety standards and a level playing field for designers, structural engineers, builders and suppliers.

“We know Maryland is subject to severe weather with high winds and windborne debris, which is why it is so important to maintain these protections throughout the state,” said Julie Rochman, IBHS president and CEO. “For example, just last year, there were two federal declarations of major disasters in Maryland – one was for severe storms and straight-line derecho winds, and the other was Hurricane Sandy, both of which caused significant property and economic damage well beyond the coastal areas.

“Allowing local jurisdictions to weaken the wind-resistance portion of the state building code could reduce the protections afforded to home and business owners, destroy the concept of baseline protection for all, and complicate the design and building processes,” said Rochman. “Wind design and windborne debris protections in the most vulnerable areas should not be compromised in order to save money in the short term. By correcting this problem, the legislature avoided potentially cheaper costs upfront, but much more expensive long-term costs for homeowners, communities, the state, and the natural environment.”

It is important to note that a statewide standard for wind protection and windborne debris, as provided by SB 750 / HB 769, does not require buildings in all localities to be built to withstand the same force winds. This is because the specific wind requirements are calibrated to reflect the most likely wind speeds in a particular zone within each state, as determined by the American Society of Civil Engineers. This is built into the model code and avoids imposing costly requirements that are disproportionate to needed wind protection in different parts of the state.

“One of IBHS’ highest priorities is the adoption and enforcement of strong, mandatory statewide building codes,” said Rochman. “Like other effective mitigation measures, strong building codes can save lives, promote long-term fiscal stability, reduce public sector response and recovery costs, protect the environment, and create a more resilient society.”

Source: Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

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