Defining the process


    According to Seth Lloyd, "In order to figure out how to make atoms compute, you have to learn how to speak their language and to understand how they process information under normal circumstances." I am not suggesting that we learn the intricacies of quantum mechanics to the degree that this quantum computer scientist has, but I am suggesting we retain his lesson. In order to succeed in our efforts, we must understand the established process and work within it.

    One process of keen interest to all structural engineers should be that of code development. Since building codes and referenced standards govern so much of our daily work, how the provisions are developed should be well understood.

    According to the organization, the International Code Council (ICC) uses the governmental consensus process to develop its building safety and fire prevention codes. It is an open, inclusive process that allows input from all individuals and groups. Committees hear all code change proposals. An appeals process allows anyone to appeal an action or inaction of a code committee. Final decisions are made by ICC voting members—code enforcement and fire officials who, with no vested interests beyond public safety, represent the public’s best interest.

    However, just because the industry is in agreement about the provisions, a model code has no legal standing until it is adopted as law by a legislative body (state legislature, county board, city council, et cetera). In fact, legislative bodies are not obligated to adopt model building safety or fire prevention codes, and may write their own code or portions of a code. But, when adopted as law, all owners of property within the boundaries of the adopting jurisdiction are required to comply with the referred codes. Because codes are updated, existing structures usually are required to meet the code that was enforced when the property was built. Therefore, the primary application of a building code is to regulate new construction. Building codes usually only apply to an existing building if the building undergoes reconstruction, rehabilitation or alteration, or if the occupancy of the existing building changes to a new occupancy as defined by the building code.

    This month, the 2008 International Code Council Codes Forum will convene in Palm Springs, Calif., to debate more than 2,200 proposed changes to the International Codes. From Feb. 18 through March 1, proposed code changes will be considered for inclusion into the 2009 International Codes—including the 2009 International Building Code (IBC). The Code Council updates the I-Codes every three years through a governmental consensus process. The hearings are open and inclusive, allowing input from anyone and everyone in a public setting.

    This month’s "Code Series" article, "A simplified wind design alternative: An explanation of ICC Code Change Proposals S84 and S85," by Jerry Barbera, P.E., not only describes the details of this group’s proposal, but explains how these proposals fit into the code development process. Whether you agree with the proposed changes or not, it is prudent to understand the process that creates the documents that govern our work.

    Another process I want to clarify is that for the Structural Engineer Best Structural Engineering Firms To Work For lists. This exciting, annual program is already underway for 2008. In a nutshell, this is a two-part program: All participating firms must complete and submit a Corporate Survey as well as execute an anonymous Employee Satisfaction Survey to its staff. All of the information necessary to apply for the list and updates for 2008—including the civil engineering, architect, and new environmental firms list — are available at

    The deadline is April 4, 2008, which is a bit earlier than last year, so I encourage you to download the documents and start the process today!