By Cynthia Gutierrez-White, MS
The importance of building safety codes is a topic frequently discussed among contractors, architects, engineers, emergency managers, building superintendents, and government officials, but during May, its importance is officially recognized. May is Building Safety Month. Spearheaded by the International Code Council, a nonprofit association focused on building safety, Building Safety Month is a global initiative to advocate adopting, implementing, and enforcing building codes to enhance public safety and property protection.
"Building safety codes save lives, but only 25 percent of buildings in the United States are up-to-date on their hazard codes. All communities need building codes to protect their residents and visitors from disasters like fires, weather-related events such as floods, and structural collapse," said Luis Avila, Vice President, Mitigation for Tidal Basin Group. "By incorporating the latest technology and providing the safest, most resilient structures, our families and communities are better protected from various natural disasters."
Having structures retrofitted to be code compliant can be expensive, but Avila recommends taking advantage of emergency management federal funds. "The COVID-19 Hazard Mitigation and BRIC grant programs are a couple of examples of the federal funds available to help you prepare for the next disaster," stated Avila.
Carlos J. Castillo, Senior Vice President, Chief Development Officer, for Tidal Basin, agrees. Citing the 2019 “Natural Hazard Mitigation Saves” report, there is significant return on investment for every dollar spent on mitigation. "Every federal dollar spent on mitigation equals six dollars of savings in reconstruction costs following a disaster. That figure goes up to $11 when the building is up to code,” said Castillo. "I was in Florida when hurricanes Irma and Michael swept through in 2017 and 2018. I saw many homes constructed to recent building codes that were barely affected, especially compared to those built to much earlier standards. Investing in building safety saves lives and money."
The most significant step in making sure buildings are built to current codes is enforcement. "Anyone can adopt the code, but where the rubber hits the road is in the enforcement," said Avila. "Code enforcement is no longer just about property maintenance. It is now more about regulating nuisances that hinder a community. As new laws emerge and new problems appear, enforcement officers are on deck to address these issues."
Code officials process the applications, issue permits for construction or modification of buildings per the code and inspect as necessary. If a deficiency exists or if the structure or one of its components does not comply with the code, it is the responsibility of the code official to issue orders to correct the illegal or unsafe condition.
"Homes and buildings built in compliance with building safety codes and the officials who enforce the codes are essential to helping communities become affordable, resilient, and energy and water-efficient," said Stephanie Murphy, VP, Preparedness, Resiliency & Emergency Management for Tidal Basin. "Building Safety Month provides education for the public about solutions that improve the safety, sustainability, affordability, and resiliency of buildings, infrastructure, and communities."
Carlos J. Castillo, CEM
An internationally recognized leader in emergency and disaster management with more than 40 years’ experience, Carlos joined Tidal Basin directly from FEMA, where he most recently held the position of Acting Deputy Administrator for Resilience. In this role, he led an organization of more than 1,300 employees. He also served as FEMA’s Assistant Administrator for Disaster Assistance where he led the Individual and Public Assistance Programs after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Ike among other major disasters.
Prior to his work with FEMA, Carlos held several leadership roles at the local, national, and international levels. His 26-year career with Florida’s Miami-Dade County in fire and emergency services included managing some of the nation’s largest disasters and three years as Director of Emergency Management where he managed the county’s response and recovery for the 2004 and 2005 historic hurricane seasons.
An emergency management executive with more than 20 years of experience in preparedness, response, and recovery, Luis is the Vice President (VP) of Mitigation at Tidal Basin. As VP of Mitigation, he oversees all mitigation operational functions of the company including Hazard Mitigation Grants management across the United States and territories.
Mr. Avila’s extensive experience consists includes his work with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), where he most recently held the position of Hurricane Sandy Hazard Mitigation Branch Chief under FEMA Region 2. In this role, he led the team of technical professionals responsible for FEMA’s second-largest mitigation grant program ($1.44 billion) in history while managing the Public Assistance Mitigation Program (406).
Stephanie Murphy, MS, CEM
Ms. Murphy has over 18 years of experience in the areas of program development and project management in the Emergency Management and Transportation industries.
As the first Emergency Management and Preparedness Manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in Washington, D.C., Stephanie developed a transportation emergency management and preparedness program from the ground up, focusing on strategic, incident and event planning; preparedness, response and recovery; corporate business continuity; training and exercising; and, identifying and implementing solutions for dynamic airport issues.
She helped prepare two major U.S. Airports – Washington Dulles International and Ronald Reagan Washington National – to respond to, recover from, and mitigate all-hazard incidents and events.