Rules on Stronger Earthquake Codes for Ark. on Hold for Now

January 7, 2008

An Arkansas legislative committee has put off a review of the state’s building code after lawmakers questioned costs related to making structures withstand earthquakes that come once every 2,500 years.

Firefighters and others support the new regulations to the Arkansas Fire Prevention Code, since the state sits along the New Madrid fault. However, lawmakers referred the changes to another committee and said it would take up the rules again next month.

Arkansas State Police Lt. Lindsey Williams told the Administrative Rules and Regulations Committee Thursday that the changes would bring the code up to date with the 2006 International Building Code. Current state laws require buildings to withstand less severe earthquakes that come on average once every 500 years.

“All of the experts on our committee, other state agencies that we’ve talked to, other structural engineers and seismologists agree that the threat of an earthquake in the New Madrid area is great and still exists, and that we should do everything we can to prepare for that and to try to mitigate the effects of an event like that,” Williams said.

Several committee members and witnesses questioned whether the earthquake safety provisions were necessary. Sen. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, said he appreciated the testimony of first responders, but questioned the rules economic impact.

“We need jobs in these communities,” Hendren said.

Fred Whistle, a Springdale engineer, noted only nine people have died per year in earthquakes in the U.S. since 1812.

“That compares against 373,000 for heart attacks, 32,000 for AIDS. … From 3,200 to 4,000 people die each year in fires, and there’s been nine in earthquakes. In football, there’s an average of 18 people die,” Whistle said.

However, Rep. John Paul Wells, D-Paris, who serves as his hometown’s fire chief, said he was ready to vote for the new rules.

“If you’ve ever crawled into a burning building on your hands and knees looking for people, you wouldn’t have any way to vote but vote for this,” Wells said.

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