Published 31 May 2019, The Daily Tribune

The recent series of earthquakes made us question the country’s readiness in terms of compliance with emergency protocols, adequacy of budget reserve and availability of relocation sites. In the aftermath of the quakes, various local governments’ top concerns revolved around testing the structural integrity of buildings, houses, and bridges in their areas. In doing so, they tested the structure’s compliance with the National Building Code, a law which used to be only familiar to engineers, architects, and those in the construction business. But with recent events that shook the country, knowing the key features of the Code is everyone’s concern.

The National Building Code prescribes certain standards applicable to construction of all buildings, infrastructure and other real estate projects in the country.  With the goal of safeguarding life  and public  welfare especially in times of emergency and calamity, the Code governs  the design, location, siting, construction, alteration, repair, conversion, use, occupancy, maintenance, moving, and demolition of such any such building or infrastructure.

The primary enforcers of the provisions of the Code are so-called “Building Officials” of the local government units (LGUs). The task of the Building Officials ranges from inspection, to approval of applications for building permits, to ordering the repair or destruction of what are considered as “dangerous buildings.” They usually conduct inspection of structures as a requirement in the processing and issuance of occupancy and other final permits related thereto and to ensure compliance with safety standards.

As an incident of the implementation of the Code, it must be noted that any person intending to construct, repair or demolish any building must first obtain a building permit from the Building Official before any such work is started. Because prevention is better than cure, it is optimal and indeed required to involve the Building Official at the outset of the construction to ensure the infrastructure’s compliance with Code requirements.

But we have to face the reality that some constructions can be built without regard to these requirements. These structures, termed as “dangerous buildings”, are those which are structurally unsafe or not provided with safe egress, or which constitute a fire hazard, or are otherwise dangerous to human life. These include any portion thereof which has been damaged by any natural calamity, to such an extent that the structural strength or the stability thereof is materially less than before or less than the minimum requirements of this Code for new buildings of similar structures, purpose, or location.

Specifically, dangerous buildings include those which any portion that is wracked, warped, buckled, or settled to such an extent that walls or other structural portions have materially less resistance to winds or earthquake than is required in the case of similar new construction. These typically include buildings made of substandard materials; those which deviated from approved construction plans; or those which underwent unauthorized renovations such as adding storeys/levels to a building whose foundation was build for a single-storey construction.

There are several remedies available in case dangerous buildings are identified. If the dangerous building can reasonably be repaired, the Building Official shall order its repair.  However, if the repair would cost more than 50 per cent of the replacement cost, the owner is given the option whether to repair or demolish the building.

On the other hand, if the dangerous building poses an immediate threat to life, limb, or property, it shall be vacated immediately, then repaired or demolished in accordance with the above procedure.

Apart from the integrity of the building’s construction, another thing to consider is the location of the project. The Code mandates that the land or site shall be at a safe distance from streamers or bodies of water and/source of air considered to be polluted, volcano or volcanic site. It must also be at a safe distance from buildings or structures considered to be a potential source of fire or explosion, such as ammunitions factory or dump and storage place for highly inflammable material.

As they say, you can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. With recent events reminding us of the more important things in life, it is hoped that we become mindful of the structural preparedness of our homes, our workplaces and other infrastructures. When in doubt, Building Officials have the power and duty to make inspections and to recommend alterations and/or repairs to reinforce the building’s structural integrity.

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