Never again. Engineering groups discuss recommendations following Surfside tragedy

by | Jul 13, 2021

While it may take months or even years to determine exactly what caused the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, members of four major engineering associations in Florida are coming together to develop recommendations for the Florida Legislature on what can happen from a structural engineering standpoint to hopefully keep other catastrophes like this from happening in the Sunshine State.

Miami-Dade County has a 40-year recertification program for multiple story buildings. But even with this plan, the unthinkable happened — a beachside high-rise condo collapsed, possibly killing over 100 people in their sleep in the middle of the night. Many counties have little to no inspection of these buildings.

The Florida Engineering Society and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida’s Executive Director Allen Douglas said the engineering groups will be meeting weekly to discuss whether Florida needs a statewide inspection program or a recertification program or not. If so, what would it look like? What is the optimum timeframe for inspections? Is 40 years too long? Do high-rises on the beach need to be inspected more frequently? Should the inspections be limited to places where people live, or should they be looking at office buildings, too?

There are concerns about inspection standards, such as how rigorous they should be. For example, some firms sample 20 percent of balconies during an inspection, while others insist on examining every single one.

“We need to spell out exactly what is entailed in these inspections,” Douglas said, “The attitude of our folks is if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

And then there’s the problem of expenses. Douglas said the inspections really shouldn’t be that expensive for the condo associations, however, “the repair part is where the money is at,” he said.

In 2018, the estimate for repairs to Champlain Towers South was about $9 million. Before the collapse that figure had soared to over $15 million.

It is the intention of frequent inspections that problems can be caught early enough to avoid the major repair costs that come after a problem has sat for years and years.

But for those living in 30- or 40-year-old condominiums, the expenses can be overwhelming.

“You know, they might be able to increase the amount of money they’re putting in reserves or something along those lines. I don’t know that we’re really going to have the answer to that,” Douglas said. “We’re kind of coming at it from ‘here’s what we think needs to be done.’

“For the people that now live in a condominium that’s 30 or 40 years old, you know, there’s going to be a number of them that need extensive repairs and it’s expensive. It’s one of the things that all the group’s (like those in insurance and home owners associations) need to think about because if a person can’t afford the assessment and they have to sell, what happens — they’ll get pennies on the dollar on their investment. So, it’s going to be a big problem for people to find themselves in that situation.”

Douglas said the insurance industry and condo homeowner associations are also coming together to address this issue and others and will also be offering input to legislators this fall.

He said his group’s ultimate goal is to come offer helpful recommendations from the engineering and construction side.

“They (other groups) will have a lot of influence over what the end product is, but we want to bring data and expertise on the structural side to the conversation.”


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