San Antonio becomes first Texas community to earn a BCEGS® Class 1

By Dale Thomure, CBO, CFM

Roderick J. Sanchez, DSD director
Roderick J. Sanchez, AICP, CBO Director, Development Services Department

In September 2016, the City of San Antonio became the first community in Texas to earn a classification of 1 from ISO Community Hazard Mitigation’s Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®). After reviewing San Antonio’s Development Services Department (DSD), ISO was happy to acknowledge the department’s obvious commitment to building code enforcement and safe, resilient buildings.

The DSD is responsible for coordinating land and building development throughout the city and comprises three main divisions: Land Development, Plan Review, and Field Services. Working with a customer service philosophy, the department strives to meet its goals of facilitation, improved cycle times, and consistency in the quality of service. Those objectives help shape the department’s success and commitment to its mission statement: “Partnering with our community to build and maintain a safer San Antonio.”

Roderick J. Sanchez, AICP, CBO, has been DSD director since 2005. It was his vision to use the BCEGS metrics as a guide to enhance DSD’s focus on code adoption, education, training and certification, and staffing levels to help achieve the department’s high scores. “The BCEGS rating is very important to me because it helps identify what we need to do to make sure San Antonio is safe,” said Sanchez. “One of the first things I looked at when I was appointed was our ISO rating.”

At the time Sanchez became director, San Antonio had a BCEGS classification of 3 for commercial and 5 for residential. In 2011, scores improved to 2 and 2, indicating clear progress. Scoring a Class 2 for residential in Texas is very difficult and might be as high as the city can go, given that fire sprinklers are not required in residences. As for commercial, even though they knew it would be extremely difficult, Sanchez and his leadership team felt they could obtain a Class 1. “We used ISO’s criteria to implement changes with the hope of being recognized as one of the best building departments in the nation,” Sanchez said.

The city acknowledges that achieving the high BCEGS ratings is a major accomplishment for both DSD and San Antonio—and a Texas milestone. “We’re the first in the state and twelfth across the nation to receive the highest rating a municipality can achieve for exemplary commitment to building code adoption and enforcement,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley. “DSD has come a long way over the past decade, and I’m very proud of Director Sanchez and his team for their hard work in accomplishing this.”

Here is a breakdown of the areas DSD focused on improving to meet the high BCEGS standards:

Code adoption

The department was one of the first municipalities in Texas to adopt the complete 2015 I-Codes, part of its goal to adopt and implement the newest building codes within two years of publication. “Adopting the newest codes is a priority for our department,” said Michael Shannon, deputy building official. “Keeping our customers engaged throughout the process gives our stakeholders a chance to submit proposed amendments and gets their support and buy-in to the new codes once adopted.”

2015 ICC Committee Conference
2015 ICC Committee Conference attended by Michael Shannon, deputy building official, and Sylvia Flood, building inspections supervisor
SABCA training, Fall 2016
SABCA training—Fall 2016

Education, training, and certification

To help keep San Antonio safe, DSD recognizes that training and certifications go hand in hand with a staff knowledgeable and skilled in their areas of expertise. Leadership strongly encourages higher education to make sure the building code enforcement team is better equipped to handle the construction of code-compliant buildings. To support this effort, DSD created the San Antonio Building Codes Academy (SABCA) and hosts three training sessions per year for city employees, other municipalities, and the development community. SABCA was established to bring instruction from high-quality educators and necessary building-related code training to code officials, design professionals, builders, tradesmen, building owners, and building managers. The latest information is presented by subject matter experts who are usually affiliated with the International Code Council (ICC).

At DSD, all plan review and inspection positions require certifications as a condition of employment. Employees are made aware of the time frame required to obtain or renew their licenses and certifications. The department encourages study groups and offers time at work to study so employees can properly prepare for required certifications, contributing to a well-trained staff. Additionally, DSD has a number of professional engineers and architects who are required to maintain their specialized licenses.

DSD’s commitment to training and certifications is outlined in the department’s Certification Requirements and Pay Policy. The policy includes reimbursement of exam and certification fees and offers certification-incentive pay based on title and position. DSD covers membership fees to professional associations, including the American Institute of Architects and Professional Engineers in Private Practice. In addition, San Antonio provides tuition reimbursement as a benefit to employees who want to enhance their professional development and educational goals.

Staff levels

DSD operates as an enterprise fund. That means the department’s revenue must cover overall expenses. With this arrangement, DSD has the opportunity to expand and contract its workforce to match development activity.

In addition to those three areas, ISO acknowledged DSD’s ongoing dedication to enhancing the development community customer experience. DSD has adopted new tools such as Inspector Route Optimization, Customer Alert System, and Electronic Plan Review to enrich service opportunities. It has expanded online building permits, text and e-mail permit activity updates, and customer alerts when inspections are complete. DSD invested in BuildSA, a new software platform designed to replace several core systems used for land development, plan review, and code enforcement transactions. Once available, customers will have better access to information, services available online 24/7, real-time updates, and a permit wizard to make doing business easier, faster, and more accessible.

Others have acknowledged DSD’s accomplishments, such as Diane Hoskins, CIC, CRM, executive director of Professional Engineers in Private Practice, Bexar Chapter. “Not only does this achievement recognize our community’s investment in code enforcement, but insurance companies use this information to help establish premiums,” Hoskins said. “It’s a win-win for San Antonio and one more example of the department’s wholehearted commitment to public safety and the inclusion of stakeholders in key decisions.”

ISO congratulates the San Antonio DSD on its achievement and looks forward to continuing to work with them on our shared goal of building safer communities.

Vision 20/20: A plan for the future of the fire service

By Jim Crawford, FIFireE, Project Manager for Vision 20/20

Vision 20/20

It’s perhaps easier to explain what Vision 20/20 is by explaining what it’s not. It’s not an appointment with your optometrist. It’s not an organization. It’s a special project that grew out of a national planning process intended to create a vision of what fire safety, prevention, and protection efforts in the United States should look like in the year 2020. The title recognizes the fire service’s need for such a vision. The project is based on the premise that, despite progress over the years, our nation still has one of the worst fire loss records of any industrialized country in the world.

The United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and other countries do significantly better at overall fire protection than we do. That leads to better fire loss records (incidents, injuries, and deaths) than we have here. That fact motivated a group of fire protection practitioners to come together in an ad hoc fashion to develop national strategies that would improve fire protection in the United States.

The process began in 2006 when fire marshals from across the nation gathered at the National Fire Academy for a meeting managed by the U.S. Fire Administration. The meeting was about the need to allow for training and networking among peers, a unique concept at the time. The passion from participants—in particular Ozzie Mirkhah from the Las Vegas Fire Department and Ben May from Epcot at Disney World in Orlando—led to an online discussion about how to improve prevention and protection efforts in the United States.

That conversation resulted in a federal grant application to conduct a strategic plan with pertinent stakeholders to determine how we could improve fire prevention and protection efforts. In 2007, the national planning process began through meetings at locations across the nation and online webinars. In 2008, 170 fire protection practitioners met in Washington, D.C., where stakeholders came together to look at perceived gaps in national prevention and protection.

The planning process was important because participants didn’t want to replicate or compete with efforts already under way. The planning focused on gaps in the national fabric and left alone organizations and important existing efforts, such as promoting home fire sprinklers, wildland fire safety, and fire-standard-compliant cigarettes. Those initiatives were not included in the plan. The strategies that did receive priority status had been mentioned in previous plans (such as America Burning in 1973) but were still viewed worthy of special emphasis.

Those strategies include the following:

  • advocating to outside decision makers the importance of fire prevention programs
  • developing a national fire safety education and marketing campaign that includes a national theme (such as “only you can prevent forest fires”) and a focus on working smoke alarms
  • increasing the importance of fire prevention within the culture of the fire service
  • promoting technologies that improve prevention and protection efforts
  • increasing the fire service focus on the development, adoption, and enforcement of codes and standards

Out of that planning process, the Vision 20/20 Project grew into a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to the project’s goals. The project name more aptly describes the concerted effort that’s intended to encourage actions that lead to improved fire prevention and protection efforts in the United States.

From the beginning, the Institution of Fire Engineers, U.S. Branch, stepped up as the host organization. Other stakeholders include the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Firefighters, National Fire Protection Association, International Code Council, American Red Cross, and Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. (The full list of Steering Committee members is on the Vision 20/20 website.)

A great deal of progress has been made in each of the strategic areas since the original plan. Free tools are available online to help local fire departments develop fire prevention advocacy plans. Those tools link the use of data to producing results to help explain why fire prevention deserves support. We developed a national fire safety theme, Fire Is Everyone’s Fight, which the U.S. Fire Administration promotes with free materials available at its website. Also on the website are free public education tools for standardized messages on smoke alarms that were market-tested for their appeal to high-risk audiences. You can print those materials locally.

Considerable effort by the project has produced educational offerings, free tools, and a national advocacy strategy for fire service leaders to increase the adoption of integrated community risk reduction (CRR) concepts by the U.S. fire service. Free tools for CRR training, including online training in partnership with the International Fire Service Training Association, are available on www.strategicfire.org.

The Vision 20/20 Project exists to initiate and coordinate the collaboration of efforts to improve fire prevention and protection strategies in the United States, with an emphasis on strategies proposed in the original plan. Those who want to learn more or wish to become involved can visit the Vision 20/20 website. You can help in a variety of ways by initiating actions that work in tandem with the Vision 20/20 Project, volunteering time, or providing funding for our programs.

For more information, you can contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jim CrawfordJim Crawford, FIFireE, Vision 20/20 project manager, is a retired fire marshal and deputy chief of the Vancouver, Washington, Fire Department. He’s a member of the NFPA technical committee on professional qualifications for fire marshals, a former member of the standards council for the NFPA, a Fellow of the Institution of Fire Engineers, a life member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and past president of the International Fire Marshal’s Association. The author of Fire Prevention Organization and Management, he serves as an editorial board member of FireRescue. He’s received the R. Wayne Powell Excellence in Fire Prevention Award, the Congressional Fire Services Institute Dr. Anne Phillips Award for leadership in fire and life safety education, recognition from the International Fire Service Training Association, the “Fire Protection Person of the Year” from the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and the Percy Bugby Award from the International Fire Marshal’s Association.

Building codes show significant improvement in states participating in BCEGS®

By Dale Thomure, CBO, CFM

National Building Code Analysis: A 10-Year Review

In February 2016, ISO Community Hazard Mitigation published our National Building Code Assessment Report, which provided a snapshot of the nation’s building codes. However, that moment in time doesn’t tell the whole story, so we created our National Building Code Analysis—an analysis of each state—and reported on the trends we identified. That analysis, released in October, was, quite frankly, heartening for anyone concerned with resilience, effective codes, and limiting loss.

According to our analysis, building code adoption and enforcement have improved in more than 70 percent of the states tracked. From 2005 to 2015, 31 states improved, 3 were unchanged, and 8 didn’t score as well.

As you likely know, ISO Community Hazard Mitigation works with local code enforcement agencies, evaluating building code effectiveness and assigning participating communities a Building Code Effectiveness Grading Schedule (BCEGS®) classification. The classifications range from 1 (exemplary building code enforcement) to 10. The program includes 20,800 communities representing 87 percent of the U.S. population.

Our analysis of BCEGS classifications for residential and commercial code enforcement covered 43 states on which we had sufficient data to analyze. The most improved states were California and Oregon, both of which jumped from Class 6 to Class 3 in both residential and commercial building categories, and Georgia, which went from Class 7 to Class 5 in residential and commercial. New Mexico and Pennsylvania improved from Class 6 to Class 4, and Delaware, Maine, and West Virginia advanced from Class 7 to Class 5 in both residential and commercial codes. View complete data and maps.

We know that municipalities with well-enforced, up-to-date codes enhance community safety standards and demonstrate better loss experience, and insurance rates can reflect that. The prospect of lessening catastrophe-related damage and ultimately lowering insurance costs provides an incentive for communities to adopt the most stringent and appropriate code for their area—and back it up with rigorous enforcement.

Even though adopting and enforcing increasingly more stringent building codes isn’t easy for many communities, our analysis is solid evidence that more effective codes are being adopted and effectively enforced across the nation. We’re proud to work with so many communities toward our common goal of safer buildings, less damage, and lower insured losses from catastrophes and other weather-related events.

Maine offers us one example of how seriously towns take the issue of building codes. The state has stronger codes generally than its municipalities, but it doesn’t require towns with less than 4,000 residents to adopt them. One coastal town fell under that threshold and was enforcing codes more than ten years old. Fortunately, the community’s new building official was eager to make improvements to his department and its BCEGS grade. He realized the old codes were a problem, especially because the addition of so many summertime residents increased the town’s population significantly, also increasing the risks. The official reached out to us, and several weeks later, after we collaborated on the town’s options, he informed us the community was adopting the state codes—even though it wasn’t mandatory. Together, we worked on ways to improve the BCEGS classification.

Another example is Newport Beach, California. The city sits on the Newport-Inglewood Fault, which has been responsible for some fairly large earthquakes dating back to 1920, with several more since 2000. Fortunately, local government, business, and community leaders knew what to do: be as prepared as possible to minimize loss through prevention. In a world rife with damage from climate and seismic events, effectively enforcing building codes is one of the best preventive measures a city can take. Over the years, we’ve collaborated with Newport Beach on its BCEGS classification, and the city has maintained a classification of 1, the highest rating attainable, offering the best possible protection against a natural disaster.

As part of the BCEGS program, the ISO Community Hazard Mitigation staff collects 1,243 data points detailing the extent and capabilities of each graded community’s residential and commercial building code adoption and enforcement. The data includes adopted codes, building department staffing levels, certifications, training, workload, administration, department review of construction documents for code compliance, and field inspection programs. We then provide participating communities specific information related to them and license the data to insurers.

For more information about ISO Community Hazard Mitigation, go to www.isomitigation.com. If you have any questions about BCEGS or our analysis, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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